Caps Could Complete Southeast Comeback Tonight
When the rest of the NHL finally got underway in January, it seemed like the Washington Capitals were still locked out.
Their offense was, anyway.
Fans wondered if they should worry. Management thought the team wasn't adjusting well to the NHL's latest infraction crackdown. Much of the lethargy was blamed on their flashy Russian captain, whose ability to lead was questioned for the first time in his career.
Still, the Caps always had one thing in their favor. They played in the Southeast Division.
Other than the occasional uprising by Tampa Bay, Washington has had a fairly cushy time of it in this group, winning it five of the last six seasons. Because of the NHL's silly system of putting division winners in the top three playoff seedings even though other, tougher divisions produced runners-up with better records, the Caps often played like an entitled team. All they had to do each year was put a spurt together sometime during the regular season and then get home ice in the first round.
Washington left it a bit late this year, but they finally snapped into it. Much of the reason was their dogged trust in Coach Adam Oates, one of the most respected team-first leaders during his playing years whose mastery of the passing game was unsurpassed by all but legends like Gretzky and Lemieux. The Caps stayed with his system -- featuring a move by Ovechkin to the right wing -- and once they 'got' it, they've left vapor trails.
And tonight, the Capitals can clinch the division with two points at home against the Winnipeg Jets. Both teams are hot -- Winnipeg has won six of seven; Washington, nine of ten -- with the Jets' resurrection from also-ran status nearly as dramatic as the Caps. Both teams are desparate for a win; only four playoff spots are open with five teams in contention, with the irony being either Washington or Winnipeg getting the No 3 seed in the East:
|3||Washington||52||25||Jets, Senators, Bruins|
|6||NY Islanders||53||24||Hurricanes, Flyers, Sabres|
|7||NY Rangers||52||24||Panthers, Hurricanes, Devils|
|8||Ottawa||52||23||Capitals, Flyers, Bruins|
|(*Note: Home games; Road games)|
By the looks of it, the Jets are more desperate than the Capitals. However, they're also more fatigued. This will be their third game in four nights and their second straight on the road as the finale of a back-to-back itinerary. Last night's 2-1 win at Buffalo was the first time in seven games the Jets failed to score at least four goals; they weren't facing Ryan Miller, so could that be a sign of tiredness? Compare that to the Caps, who have tallied five goals in three of their last four games with the assistance of a blistering power play (7 for its lsast 21).
On top of that, Ovechkin's on fire (ten goals in his last eight games) and has offensive help from the likes of Troy Brouwer (six in five games) and two-way defenseman Mike Green (four assists in three games).
Check the Bovada data tool on the Home page for more details. It lists a Washington win as -200 with an over/under of 5½. This is a virtual playoff game for both teams, and Verizon Center will be rocking. The Jets will have to depend on adrenaline, but the Capitals have a captain whose history is to rise to the occasion at home, and right now, his teammates are just as super-charged.
It's expensive to take the Caps, but tonight it's worth it. Lay the -200. And while you're at it, take the value in going over. This game will have playoff intensity, but neither offense can afford to be shy right now.
This is the final year of the Southeastern Division's configuration, and Washington will lay claim as its lord and master, such as it is, once again.
Result ... Washington 5 Winnipeg 3 Capitals cover Total goals = 8 over covers