A Painful Pratfall
It wasn't that long ago - the day of the trade deadline, really - when the Washington Capitals were the fashionable choice to come out of the non-playoff pack and grab a post-season position.
That seemed logical if only because the Caps added three players - Cristobal Huet, Sergei Fedorov and Matt Cooke - and because they had two chances to make the post-season, either by earning the eighth and final post-season berth in the Eastern Conference or by catching the Rod Brind'Amour-less Carolina Hurricanes and winning the Southeast Division.
Now both look unlikely.
The Caps are six points back of eighth place Philadelphia and seven points in arrears of surging Carolina after losing two painful games on the weekend, both largely because of major brain cramps by individual players.
On Saturday afternoon, the Caps were leading Boston on the road 1-0 late in the game when goon Donald Brashear high-sticked one Bruin then launched a haymaker at Boston blueliner Shane Hnidy. Brashear ended up with six minutes in penalties, and when more Caps went to the box shortly thereafter, the B's ended up scoring two 5-on-3 goals and winning the game.
Then came Sunday afternoon. Oh my.
With less than a minute left and Pittsburgh pressing for a road victory in D.C., the two teams were tied 2-2 when the Caps star rookie Nicklas Backstrom pulled a Bryan McCabe.
Yep, drilled the puck right into his own net for the winning goal. And from almost the same spot that McCabe engineered his own goal in Buffalo earlier this season.
From Brashear to Backstrom, then, the Caps went from a potential dark horse for the Stanley Cup playoffs to a team unlikely to make it.
You think its painful for the Maple Leafs to be playing their best hockey of the season with no chance to make the playoffs?
Try the Caps predicament. One lost weekend turned great promise into what is likely to be another spring on the outside looking in.
Now, it appears there won't be a group of three or four teams in each conference fighting to get into the playoffs right up until the final day of the season.
In the east, only ninth place Buffalo has a realistic chance to still get in. Out west, going into play yesterday only ninth place Nashville still had serious hopes of making it to the dance.
With a month to go in the season, a bit of stretch run drama has already evaporated. The rest will jostle for positioning in the Stamkos Cup.