By the end of Sunday’s game against the Bruins, the Capitals had played 120 minutes of hockey in just over 24 hours, had lost two defensemen in two days and played one of their most physical games of the season in a 6-3 loss in Boston.
It was a taxing weekend physically for the Capitals, who are in a four-team race for first place in the East division with the season winding down.
In short, their upcoming three-day break is coming at a much needed time for the first place Capitals, whose lead in the division is going to come down to the final 10 game stretch.
“Yeah I think we would have liked to have this one,” Tom Wilson said of the Bruins’ loss. “With that being said we will have some time to regroup. It’s been a lot of hockey in a short period of time and that wears on you physically and mentally so I think it will be important for the guys to get a bit of a break. Call it our mini all-star break here and we will have 10 games or so left.”
After a strong performance Saturday against the Flyers, in which defenseman Zdeno Chara was lost to an injury, the Capitals got caught with another taxing matchup against the Bruins a day later in a matchup that has produced slobberknocker games all season long. And Sunday was no different.
Defenseman Justin Schultz left the game early in the first period with a lower body injury and was declared out soon after, which left the Capitals with five defensemen for the majority of the game. Garnet Hathaway was ejected in the third period for a boarding call that drew significant blood on Jarred Tinordi.
The Bruins were called for two double minor high sticking penalties, once in the first period and once in the second period, as both teams combined for 35 minutes on 10 total penalties.
“Yeah it’s unfortunate when you lose guys,” defenseman Brenden Dillon said. “Schultz-y goes down early, we get down to five. I thought (Trevor van Riemsdyk) came in and had a great game for us. It is tough when you are sitting for that long and then come into a game, a playoff-type of game. I think a lot of us were doing our best to keep it simple, keep the shifts short. Hopefully both of those guys are back again soon and get back to full health before the big stuff.”
As of Sunday afternoon, the Capitals now hold a three-point lead over the second place Penguins, a four-point lead over the third place Islanders and a six-point lead over the fourth place Bruins. But, they have played two more games than the Penguins and Islanders and three more than the Bruins.
Over the last 10 games of the season, the Capitals will play the Islanders three times, the Penguins twice and the Bruins once more. Meaning, the opportunity for the Capitals to assert themselves atop the division will be there for the taking. Or, a few losses to the wrong teams could put the Capitals on the road in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
That playoff feeling will start, interestingly enough, this Thursday against the Islanders in the first of three consecutive matchups that should replicate the intensity of a playoff series. The Islanders will have the chance to leap the Capitals in that three-game swing.
Thankfully for the Capitals, those games won’t happen for three days. And by then, the ramp up to the playoffs will be in full swing.
“We will amp it up, we will pony up for the big stuff,” Wilson said. “That’s the exciting time of year so I think guys will get what they need out of these next couple days and just come back to the rink ready to go.”