As Olympic disappointment reverberates for the Washington Capitals' star players, the team is in jeopardy of missing the playoffs as it enters the final part of the NHL season.
The Capitals (27-23-9) will visit the Florida Panthers Feb. 27, but then the schedule turns ugly. They have back-to-back weekend games, at Boston March 1 and then at home against Philadelphia March 2. They're at Philadelphia March 5 and Boston March 6 for another back-to-back.
Captain Alex Ovechkin and center Nicklas Backstrom insisted they were focused on a playoff push. At the Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Ovechkin's Russian team was eliminated on home ice without a medal. Backstrom's allergy medication, Zyrtec-D, caused him to fail a drug test and miss Sweden's gold-medal game, which Canada won.
"We have a real important situation here in Washington right now," Backstrom said after practice Feb. 25. "We're not in a playoff spot. I'm focusing on Washington right now. How we have to win hockey games -- that's what I'm going to do."
Ovechkin, who leads the NHL with 40 goals, took responsibility for scoring just one goal during five Olympic games. Like Backstrom, Ovechkin said it's time to get the Capitals into the playoffs for a seventh consecutive season.
"Right now, we're here and we're going to do our best to take the playoffs and try to win the [Stanley] Cup," Ovechkin said Feb. 25. "We're going to make a push, and we're going to fight."
The Capitals are three points out of a playoff spot with 23 games on the schedule.
After the games against the Panthers, Flyers and Bruins, the Capitals will host the Phoenix Coyotes (March 8), and then have a home-and-home pair against the Pittsburgh Penguins (March 10 and 11).
Later during the month, there will be a three-game road trip against the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks. Washington will follow that trip with home games against the Kings and Bruins.
Head coach Adam Oates noted that the Capitals entered the final stretch with a two-game winning streak.
"We finished pretty good, last couple of games," Oates said of victories against Winnipeg and New Jersey before the Olympic break. "We've been playing decent hockey. We've just got to turn the page, get ready for Florida."
Defenseman John Carlson (United States), Martin Erat (Czech Republic) and Marcus Johansson (Sweden) also played in the Sochi Olympics.
Oates said he was confident Ovechkin and Backstrom could quickly transition away from their Olympic debacles.
"They know the importance of this franchise," Oates said. "Ovi's country was the host country, and huge expectations, and their team didn't play very well. In a short window of time, that can happen. Backy's situation, it's borderline unfair. It's our job to get him through it and get him to refocus on the Capitals for the rest of the year."
Seven of Washington's remaining 23 games are against fellow Metropolitan Division teams. The Capitals are 1-6-1 during their past eight games against divisional opponents.