The Caps get back on the ice on Wednesday night against the New York Islanders at the Verizon Center at 7pm. Washington has not played since Alexander Ovechkin’s two goal and two assist performance led the team to a 5-3 victory over Tampa last Friday. The Great #8 now has 100 points on the season (53 goals, 47 assists). While the Caps were getting rested, something they really needed, and hopefully healthier (Defenseman Mike Green is close to getting over the flu and hopefully other players fighting that virus are recovering as well, however, Donald Brashear’s knee still isn’t ready for action yet), the New Jersey Devils managed to lose to both Carolina and the Rangers giving the Caps a one point lead on second place in the Eastern Conference standing with six games to go in the regular season. As I wrote a week ago (http://wnst.net/wordpress/edfrankovic/2009/03/23/caps-have-inside-track-on-2nd-in-the-east/), the Caps had the inside track on 2nd place and they still maintain that advantage.
The Caps last 6 games are:
NYI, Buf, Atl, @Atl, @TB, @Fla
New Jersey’s road is a little tougher:
@Pit, TB, @Buf, Tor, @Ott, Car
If Washington can go 5-1 they should easily get 2nd place and even 4-2 might be enough.
Today Washington recalled forward Keith Aucoin from Hershey for Wednesday’s game. Goalie Simeon Varlamov was sent down after Friday’s contest to play two games in Hershey (won 7-2 on Saturday against Bridgeport making 38 saves and then lost 1-0 to Wilkes Barre but made 36 saves on Sunday night) and then was recalled on Monday (Tarik El-Bashir’s Capitals Insider Blog is reporting Varlamov may get the start on Friday against Buffalo and will likely play one other game before the end of the regular season).
The Caps are 3-0 this year against the Islanders but the two wins in New York came in overtime and the win at the Verizon Center in early December was the result of a three goal third period that broke a 2-2 tie. My prediction: this will be another close game and the Islanders did give the Flyers fits on Saturday (lost 4-3 in a shootout) so Washington needs to be ready to play when the puck drops.
Down on the farm: The Hershey Bears now hold a three point lead over the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in the AHL East Division of the Eastern Conference. The Bears have six games left while Bridgeport only has four remaining (the AHL only plays 80 games vs. 82 in the NHL). Hershey’s next four games are on the road (including Friday at Bridgeport) before they close out the season at home.
Speaking of the AHL, the long time home of the Philadelphia Flyers in the NHL and now the AHL home of the Phantoms, The Spectrum, is supposed to be closed this year (but there is a rumor going around that due to economic reasons it may stay open longer). So for those fans who enjoyed seeing hockey in that building, and I know I did attending nearly every Caps game there from 1987-1996 (the Flyers then moved across the parking lot to the Wachovia Center), you still have a chance to go up and see a game. Hershey plays at The Spectrum on April 10th.
Frozen Four: The four teams to advance to the 2009 Frozen Four at the Verizon Center on April 9-11 include two first-time Frozen Four participants and two who will be making their first appearance in the NCAA semifinals since 1997. Bemidji State, Boston University, Miami and Vermont will compete for the first-ever NCAA Division I championship awarded in the District of Columbia after winning their respective NCAA regionals this weekend.
The matchup for the first semifinal on Thursday, April 9, features the two newcomers, Bemidji State and Miami, facing off at 5 p.m. Both were the No. 4 seeds in their four-team regionals. The second semifinal faces off at 8:30 p.m. and features two Hockey East teams that last reached the Frozen Four in 1997: Boston University, the tournament’s top overall seed, and Vermont. The semifinals will be carried live on ESPN2 (HD).
The national championship will be held Saturday, April 11, at 7 p.m. on ESPN (HD). The semifinal and championship games, to be held at Verizon Center, are already sold out.
NHL Eastern Conference Update: Both the Montreal Canadiens (8th place) and the Florida Panthers (9th place) won on Tuesday night so the Habs still lead the Panthers by a point (88-87) and have a game in hand. Florida is two points behind the 7th place Rangers and both have five games left. The Buffalo Sabres (10th place) have 82 points and have seven games left but probably need to win all of them to have any chance of getting into the post season. The Flyers, who have seven games left, have the inside track on 4th place while the Hurricanes and Penguins are battling it out for 5th place.
NHL Western Conference Update: If the playoffs started today all five teams in the Central Division, once thought by some to be the weakest division in the league, would make it in. San Jose and Detroit are in with the Sharks looking like they will get the top seed and then you have Vancouver, Calgary and Chicago who are pretty much in followed by sixth place Columbus who appear to be on the verge of making the playoffs for the first time EVER in eight NHL seasons. Earlier in the season I called the Blue Jackets the surprise team and when they added rookie goalie Steve Mason they became an even bigger success and story. Nashville (7th), St. Louis (8th), Anaheim (9th), Edmonton (10th), and Minnesota (11th) are all within three points of each other.
Programming Note: For those who missed Drew Forrester’s interview with Caps defenseman Brian Pothier from Tuesday morning please check it out in the WNST audio vault.