The Postseason Pressure Is On
By Stephen London
The Washington Capitals had a tough span of road tests, which could have put them out of playoff contention if they did not play well. During the five road games the Capitals played, they finished 2-2-1, earning five points and keeping their postseason dreams alive.
With a young goaltender starting three of the last four games for the Caps, there was no telling what could happen with Braden Holtby in net. Holtby's first and only start this season before the road trip was a 5-3 loss to the San Jose Sharks Feb. 13. But a lower-body injury to Tomas Vokoun brought Holtby back to Washington, D.C.
The 22-year-old Holtby has been holding his own against some of the best offensive talent in the NHL. His first start since losing to the Sharks came against the Detroit Red Wings. The Capitals scored three goals during the first period, which helped Holtby out. Without Holtby, the Caps may have come much closer to losing their most recent game.
The Minnesota Wild came to the nation's capital yesterday to face the hometown Caps in a nationally televised game. During the Capitals' traveling day to get back to D.C., the Buffalo Sabres were able to gain some ground in the standings. With the Capitals behind a game to the Sabres, it was a Game 7 atmosphere at the Verizon Center yesterday.
In a high-pressure situation, Holtby stopped all 28 shots from the Wild and earned his first shutout of the season. In addition to Holtby playing beyond expectations, Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin has been on top of his game.
The Great Eight has a five-game goal streak, which includes three multi-point games and two multi-goal games. During the past seven games, Ovi has nine goals and one assist. Ovechkin has faced media criticism this season, but is now ranked fourth in the NHL in goals with 36. He has reached this total despite the injury to Nick Backstrom, who has been Ovi's linemate and playmaker for years.
Backstrom has now been cleared for full participation in practice, but because the Capitals put him on the season-long injured reserve list, he cannot play until the playoffs. Should the Capitals qualify for the postseason, they should get a boost from Backstrom, who had 42 points during 38 games before sustaining his concussion.
The Capitals' next game is crucial. The Capitals host the Buffalo Sabres, who are right on their tails in the standings, March 27. It is imperative that the Capitals beat the Sabres to get another game up in the standings and help solidify a playoff chance.
Posted March 26, 2012