By Katie Adler
Coming into Thursday night’s game just barely holding onto a playoff spot, the Washington Capitals needed a big win–both to hold onto their postseason chances and to improve morale following a two-game skid.
Instead, the Caps put up a frustrating performance leading to a 6-3 loss against the Florida Panthers. While goals from Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov presented a potential comeback in the third period, the Capitals failed to even the score and gave up two empty net goals in a wildly disappointing finish.
“We gotta do more. It’s not good enough,” said Peter Laviolette following the loss. “There are things that we can do better – we have to do them better.”
The Caps have now lost three games in a row — all in regulation — and have not held a lead since their February 11th game against the Boston Bruins. Tensions began to boil over as the game continued: T.J. Oshie earned a double minor in one of multiple scrums, Backstrom was visibly frustrated on the bench, and Gustafsson broke his stick over the crossbar following Florida’s second empty net goal.
One VERY pissed off @TJOshie77 pic.twitter.com/kpAtd1xAn1
— Al Koken (@RealSmokinAl) February 17, 2023
With Thursday night’s loss, the Caps are tied with the Panthers for the final wild-card spot in the East, with only 25 games remaining in the regular season. If they want to make the playoffs, the team will have to put on a stellar performance in their remaining games.
“We just need to wake up and start playing,” said Dmitry Orlov, when asked what the team needed going forward, later noting “We’ve got two months left. We need to find our game. It’s not good enough.”
In the locker room, Dylan Strome noted, “We’re going to need to, y’know, win at least 15, 16, 17 out of [the remaining 25 games] to have a chance.” The Capitals made the final wild card spot in the 2021-22 season with 100 total points. To reach that same total this season, they would have to earn over three-quarters of all available points for the next two months.
The race for that final wild card spots in the Eastern Conference narrows by the day. Not only do the Caps face competition from the Panthers, but also the Islanders, Red Wings, and Sabres, all of whom are within four points of the Caps.
The Islanders seem bent on earning a playoff spot in Lane Lambert’s first season as head coach, trading for Bo Horvat as the trade deadline approaches. Meanwhile, Detroit beat the Calgary Flames 5-2 Thursday night and has racked up a five-game win streak. Buffalo has gone 6-3-1 in their last 10.
To make matters worse, Detroit has three games in hand over the Capitals, while Buffalo has four, making it all too likely that they will tie or surpass the Capitals as they catch up in games played. The Capitals may have held onto their playoff spot for now, but their grip on it is tenuous.
“I think we know what it takes to be successful, we just haven’t played that way in a couple games here,” Strome remarked.
The Capitals left for Raleigh following the game, where they will play their Stadium Series game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday.
“It’s going to be a different energy,” Garnet Hathaway said when asked if the game could spark a turnaround, “a spark wouldn’t hurt us.”
The trade deadline is two weeks away, and the Capitals may have to make some hard decisions on their future before then.
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