Ottawa has been on a tear lately. I can't imagine that even the most optimistic fans would have thought something like this was reasonable or even possible. What has been unfortunate through all this is having to watch what had been a pretty mediocre Bruins team catch fire at the same time.
We've been playing really good hockey lately, having gone an absolutely inconceivable, fundamentally bananas 12-2-2 since February 10th. During that time Boston has gone 8-4-3. While that's not as good as we've been, it's been enough for them to stay ahead of us.
Watching Boston maintain the gap on Ottawa through all this feels like watching a version of Cinderella where the stepsisters get their own fairy godmothers. Cinderella gets to be fancy for a little while and feel good about herself, but in the end she still doesn't get to go the ball.
But wait! Is there another way in?
As of Sunday morning, the Bruins had overtaken the Capitals in the standings. They looked to be the new target of choice. Since then, Washington has beaten Boston, and barely pulled out a win against Buffalo last night. We now sit 9 points back of Washington with 3 games in hand. In stark contrast to the Bruins and Sens, the Caps haven't been all that good lately. They're barely above .500 in the same stretch I mentioned above, having gone 10-7 since February 10th. It should be noted that they kicked off that stretch pretty hot and are just 4-6-0 in their last ten games.
I mentioned in my last fan post about making the playoffs just how good Ottawa's been lately. That post was from before we went on our little run, but my point was that we were playing a lot better than many of the teams around us in the standings.
Here's how we compare to Washington in a number of key categories at even strength since the new year:
OTT 52.2%, 12th
WAS 51%, 16th
OTT 54%, 2nd
WAS 50.6%, 17th
OTT 57.1%, 3rd
WAS 51.8%, 14th
Those numbers come from war-on-ice.
Ottawa has definitely been luckier than Washington in terms of goals, but we've been out possessing opponents to a higher degree and out-chancing them at the second highest rate in the league. Washington has been profoundly mediocre in the new year.
Since the start of the month, almost all of Washington's wins have come against Eastern Conference bottom feeders: Toronto, Buffalo and Columbus. Their only win against a playoff team in March is the aforementioned win against the Bruins.
Otherwise they've lost to every playoff bound team they've played, as well as Dallas this past Friday. Of their remaining 13 games, they play only four against teams that are currently outside of the playoffs. One of those games is against us on April 4th, and might be huge, depending on how things shape up over the next few weeks.
It doesn't seem to matter who Ottawa is playing at the moment, we've been pulling out wins against great teams for weeks now. It's still nice to know that we double the Capitals with eight games left against teams outside the playoffs.
We have 14 more regular season games to play. Based on how Ottawa and Washington have been playing, what the stats speak to, and their respective schedules down the stretch, the following scenario doesn't seem so far fetched:
- Win 2 of 3 games in hand.
- In the other games, pick up a record just 4 points better than Washington's
- Beat Washington on April 4th
That's not to say it's going to be easy by any means, and it wouldn't guarantee that we'd make the playoffs, but it seems like our most reasonable way in. We also need to continue to play better than Florida and Philadelphia to finish the season off. It's a tough hill to climb, but watching this team lately, I've been feeling more energized and optimistic than I have in a very long time. I feel like we're capable of anything, and after watching us sweep California I'm not very worried about whether or not we can get those few things done over the next month.