Washington Capitals defenseman Shaone Morrisonn (26) celebrates his goal with Eric Fehr (16), Brendan Morrison and others during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Anaheim Ducks, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2010, in Washington. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Nick Wass
WASHINGTON - Goal. Goal. Goal. Game over in 2ï¿½ minutes.
The Southeast Division race is over with more than two months to spare.
It's no exaggeration to say the Washington Capitals have left the rest of the NHL stranded on the ice when it comes to scoring. They're averaging 3.83 goals - more than a half-goal better than anyone else - and have outscored opponents 41-18 during their eight-game winning streak.
That run, the team's longest in 21 years and two short of the franchise record, has given the Capitals their biggest-ever lead in the standings. The early Thursday standings had Washington sitting 21 points clear in the Southeast Division.
They're on a roll, and they can feel it.
"That's the confidence part about it," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "And it works conversely the other way. If you're on a losing streak, you sit there and you go, 'Oh, man, how are we going to lose this one today?' And on a winning streak: 'I don't know how it's going to happen, but you're going to pull it out."'
Wednesday night's 5-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks is as good of an example as any. Ducks goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere kept it close for two periods, but three goals from three players on three shots to open the third broke a 1-1 tie and sent the sellout crowd home happy again.
"They grabbed it and ran with it," Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said. "We know what kind of hockey team they are. You watch enough hockey, you understand the skill-set that they have."
Or how about the 7-2 road win over the New York Islanders the night before? The Capitals won that one without a single point from two-time league MVP Alex Ovechkin or high-octane defenceman Mike Green. The scoring is coming from every source imaginable - John Erskine scored his first goal of the season against the Islanders, and Shaone Morrisonn did the same against the Ducks.
"We can't just rely on two guys," Morrisonn said. "If all of us chip in, it's great."
All of them are. Well, nearly. Defenceman Jeff Schultz was the only skater active for Wednesday's game who hasn't scored at least one goal in the last 11 games.
The Capitals have given the nation's capital some needed joy in a pro sports landscape that's otherwise quite gloomy. The Redskins, Nationals and Wizards are all last-place teams. On Wednesday night, Boudreau delivered his upbeat post-game remarks at the same podium used 3ï¿½ hours earlier by Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld, who was discussing the NBA suspensions of Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton for bringing guns into the locker-room.
For the Capitals, none of the recent success matters unless the team can bring the Stanley Cup to the city for the first time. The franchise's history is littered with playoff heartbreak from teams that had tons of promise in the regular season.
"I think I push pretty hard," Boudreau said. "Never getting satisfied is something I use - because it's easy to get satisfied. You can look at it, as you win seven or you win 10 out of 11 and you say 'I'm tired today and if we lose, everybody will still say we did pretty good and we had to lose some game sometime.'
"And I'll say 'Why?' I'm mean, we're going to lose at one point, but I don't want them to think that it's satisfactory for them not to give their best effort all the time. There's always something. It's easy to find faults. We're not a perfect team. When we start playing perfect, I'll let you know."