They didn't help themselves yesterday, when they gave up four goals on six shots in the second period and lost, 6-3, to the Dallas Stars.
"We're not in good shape until we're in the playoffs," said Capitals coach Jim Schoenfeld, whose team had been unbeaten in three games. "A lot can happen between now and the end of the season, and we have to make it happen for us."
Yesterday, the Stars made it happen for them, closing within four points of Central Division leader Detroit and a top seed in the playoffs.
The Capitals' next chance to pick up two points comes tomorrow night, when the New York Islanders come in for their second game in a week at USAir Arena.
By that time, Schoenfeld could be ready to go with goalie Rick Tabaracci, who has been out with a knee strain since Feb. 20.
"He thinks he's ready to go, but we'll see how he does in practice [today]," Schoenfeld said. "I want to make sure he rTC doesn't have any soreness, and I want him to have his timing. When he comes back, he has to play great, because he can't ease into the position. He's the goalie, and it's too important. We saw that [yesterday]."
Against Dallas, starter Don Beaupre gave up a rebound goal to Mike Modano, a beautiful wraparound to Dave Gagner, who faked everyone out with what he called "just an ad-lib" and a point-blank goal to Pelle Eklund, who got behind defensemen Jim Johnson and John Slaney.
At that point, with 9:19 left in the second period, Schoenfeld took Beaupre out. Mike Craig scored on Dallas' next shot, against goalie Byron Dafoe, to lead 4-1.
Dale Hunter scored the first goal to give the Caps a 1-0 lead 1:28 into the game. But by the time the game was over, Johnson, a former Stars defenseman, was smashing his stick against the concrete wall on the way to the dressing room and the Caps had lost big to Dallas for the second time three weeks.
"I was just upset at the outcome," said Johnson. "But a big part of it was that they are my former team. You never want to lose, and you especially don't want to go against your old team and lose."
The Stars have beaten the Caps twice, outscoring Washington 12-5.
"And it isn't even a situation where they like to play Washington," said Johnson. "They didn't have a fun night tonight. A lot of the play was in their end, but they capitalized on nearly every chance they got."
Brent Gilchrist scored a power-play goal on Dafoe to make it 5-1 with 5:51 left in the second, before the Caps were able to score again.
Dimitri Khristich worked hard along the boards behind the Dallas net during a power play to get the puck to Joe Juneau. He sent a pass to Slaney, who scored on a long slap shot that just squeezed between goalie Darcy Wakaluk's foot and the right post.
"We didn't give them too many chances, but they were good chances," said Juneau, who scored to bring the Capitals to within 5-3 with 8:04 left in the third period.
Beaupre played the third period and allowed no goals. Dallas scored into an empty net while Washington had a sixth attacker.
"We didn't score on our chances, our good chances," Juneau said.
If the Caps could count the ones that could have been, should have been, they would have been leading 4-1 after the first period, not trailing 4-1 midway through the second.
"We took it to them, but we couldn't put enough pucks in the
net," said Kelly Miller. "We've got to keep the score down to win."
Dave Poulin had two breakaways in the first period, Miller had an open-net shot that went high.
In a high-powered third period in which Juneau worked double shifts, Steve Konowalchuk missed point-blank, Michal Pivonka and Pat Peake each missed a shot at the crease on back-to-back swings, and even Juneau missed two shots that he would make on a good day.
Part of the problem was Wakaluk, and part was pure bad shooting.
Dallas .. .1 4 1 -- 6
Washington 1 1 1 -- 3