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Postseason Notebook -- April

by Mike Vogel / Washington Capitals
When they returned home from a successful (5-1) six-game road trip to play their final three games of the season at home, the Capitals brought with them a four-game winning streak. They also brought with them the knowledge that even if they stretched that streak to seven straight by running the table at home, it might not be enough to earn them their first Stanley Cup playoff berth in five years.

No More Monkey – With its win over Carolina on Apr. 1, Washington had its first five-game winning streak in more than seven years. The last time the Caps won five straight was from Mar. 3-11, 2001. Washington’s drought between five-game winning streaks was the longest current drought among all NHL teams, and also the longest in Washington franchise history. The Caps went the first 464 games of their existence without a five-game winning streak, and with the win over the Hurricanes they ended a 498-game spell between five-game winning sprees.

Big Night in Net – Caps goaltender Cristobal Huet won his 30th game of the season against Carolina on Apr. 1, joining the 30-win club for the first time in his NHL career. He also won his seventh straight start, becoming the first Caps goalie to win as many as seven straight since Olie Kolzig did so in Mar. 2000. Huet also played his 10,000th minute in the NHL; it was the first minute of the game against the Canes.

Deadline Doings – The three stars of the Apr. 1 game were Huet, Sergei Fedorov and Matt Cooke. Those three players were all obtained on the Feb. 26 trade deadline, and they were obtained in that order: Huet first, Fedorov second and Cooke third.

Shot Down – Carolina came into the Apr. 1 game averaging 32.5 shots on goal per game for the season, the second highest figure in the league. In their previous 21 games, the Canes had averaged 36 shots per game.

The Capitals limited the Canes to 27 shots on Mar. 25 in Carolina and just 22 shots on Apr. 1. Washington outshot Carolina by a combined 83-49 in the last two meetings between the two teams in 2007-08.

65 With One to Go – With two goals on Apr. 3 against the Lightning, Caps left wing Alex Ovechkin now has 65 on the season, the most ever for a left wing in the NHL. He eclipsed a 15-year-old mark one held by Luc Robitaille. Robitaille netted 63 goals for the Los Angeles Kings in 1992-93.

“I am very happy that Alex has achieved this accomplishment,” said Robitaille, upon learning of Ovechkin’s achievement. “I love watching him play because he plays not only with heart and passion but with a true love for the game.”

Ovechkin’s second goal was the game-winner, his league-leading 11th game-winner of the season. Only Peter Bondra (13 in 1997-98) has ever had more game-winning goals in a season for the Capitals.

Another Notch for Nick – Caps rookie center Nicklas Backstrom recorded his 54th assist and 68th point of the season on Ovechkin’s third-period game-winner in the Apr. 3 game. The assist tied Ovechkin’s single-season record for assists by a Caps rookie, and the 68 points put him ahead of Bobby Carpenter and Chris Valentine for the second most points ever by a Caps rookie. Both Carpenter and Valentine recorded 67 points in 1981-82.

With an assist in the season’s final game, Backstrom passed Ovechkin for the top spot on the Caps’ all-time single-season rookie assists list.

Hooray, Huet – Caps goaltender Cristobal Huet won his eighth consecutive game on Apr. 3, two shy of the franchise record Pat Riggin established when he was the starting goaltender of record in each of Washington’s wins during its franchise-record winning streak of 10 games from Jan. 27-Feb. 18, 1984.

Never A Doubt – When Bruce Boudreau took over the reins of the Caps on Nov. 22, the Caps were already 14 points behind the Carolina Hurricanes for the Southeast Division lead. With Saturday’s win over the Panthers, the Caps completed an improbable comeback and became the first team in the 30-team era of the NHL’s history to go from 14th or 15th place in their conference to a playoff spot.

Each time it was knocked down, Washington got up off the mat and fought back. Hard.

After a 6-3 loss to the Hurricanes in Carolina on Feb. 23, the Caps went 15-4-1 the rest of the way. After a 3-2 loss to the Leafs on Mar. 1, the Caps won 13 of 16. After demoralizing losses to Boston and Pittsburgh on Mar. 8-9 – the first consecutive regulation losses of the Boudreau era – Washington won 11 of 12. After a humbling 5-0 blanking at the hands of the Blackhawks in Chicago, the Caps ran the table, authoring seven straight wins over divisional foes, their longest winning streak in more than 15 years.

They didn’t know it until after their final game, but they had very little margin for error. One point, to be exact. The Caps edged the Canes by two points in earning the fourth division title in franchise history and the third Southeast crown. It is the Caps’ first division title in seven years.

You could call this team “the little engine that could,” except there is nothing little about them.

Seven-Up –
With the season-ending Apr. 5 win over the Panthers, the Capitals had seven straight wins for the first time since Feb. 9-23, 1993. The Capitals also had another seven-game winning streak earlier in that campaign.

The longest winning streak in franchise history was a 10-game run from Jan. 27-Feb. 18, 1984.

The Capitals won six straight at home to close the 2007-08 season. Washington won five consecutive home contests from Jan. 15-31.

Rock The Red – Washington fans filled the seats consistently during the latter stages of the season. Down the stretch, they were also predominantly clad in red and extremely loud.

The Caps drew a crowd of 17,000 or better for each of their last 15 home games after the beginning of February and they recorded seven sellouts in their last 11 games. Washington drew an average of 15,473 per home game on the season, its best attendance number since 2002-03. The Caps’ eight sellouts were more than the team managed in the last three seasons combined (seven) and its most since 2001-02 (14).

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