Now, in the final week of the regular season, the coach has changed his outlook.
"It's just as easy to go for No. 1 as it is to go for No. 5, so you may as well shoot for the top, right?" Boudreau said Monday. "If you're expectations when you start are just to make the top eight -- 'If we can sneak into eighth, we can still win' -- I think your expectations are too low."
Having climbed their way out of their early season doldrums -- they were tied for seventh after an eight-game losing streak in mid-December -- the Capitals are finding that No. 1 is a very realistic goal after all. They are tied with the Philadelphia Flyers atop the East, and both teams have three games remaining.
A year ago, in the first round of the playoffs, the Capitals became the first No. 1 seed team to blow a 3-1 series lead against a No. 8 and were eliminated by Montreal.
Boudreau has been studying the standings and the possible matchups, but the logjams are such that it's impossible to project the Capitals' first-round playoff opponent. He knows which team he would rather play, but he's not about to give that away.
"I think the combinations that can still happen are a crazy number that I can't figure out, or don't have time to try," Boudreau said. "It's not like you're sitting there saying, 'Geez, I want to play this team, I want to play that team, and where we are here is where we want to be.' You could end up in first and play the team you least want to play, or you can end up in third and play the team you least want to play."