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Caps look to ride Southeast dominance all the way to playoffs

Apr 11, 2013, 4:55 PM EDT

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 7: Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals celebrates scoring teams second goal in the second period during a NHL hockey game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on April 7, 2013 at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Washington Capitals have made a stirring comeback from their dreadful start to move into third in the Eastern Conference.

And they know exactly how they got there.

The Caps have dined out on the Southeast Division opponents this year, going 12-3-0. The only teams to achieve similar in-division success are Pittsburgh (12-5-0 vs. the Atlantic) and Chicago (13-0-1 vs. the Central).

“It’s been our saving grace this year,” Braden Holtby told the Washington Post. “It’s been lucky that we’ve got to play those teams so much, but at the same time, we’ve done a good job with them and we haven’t taken a lot of those games lightly because we know how important they are.”

Washington is 2-1 against Tampa Bay this year, 3-1 against Carolina and Winnipeg and a perfect 4-0 against Florida, outscoring the Panthers by a whopping 22-9 margin.

(Queue the “more like South-LEAST division” jokes.)

To their credit, the Caps aren’t denying the fact they’re benefiting from playing in a weak division.

They’re sticking to the usual utterances teams in these situations offer: We didn’t make the schedule. You can only beat the teams you face. We’re not focused on who we beat, but rather how we play.

Just ask forward Matt Hendricks.

“Our division hasn’t been that solid this year. We can’t argue that,” Hendricks said. “But for the most part we tried not to be too focused on the outside, more looking at our games, our video clips, focusing on the ways we could get better and start climbing the ladder.”

The Caps have eight games remaining in the season, including tonight’s contest against — you guessed it — another in-division rival, the Carolina Hurricanes.

After that, Washington has two more Southeast matchups left (Saturday vs. Tampa Bay; Tuesday Apr. 23 vs. Winnipeg) and will play both at the friendly confines of the Verizon Center.

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