April 16 vs. Toronto Maple Leafs at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 p.m.
TV: Comcast SportsNet
Radio: 1500AM WFED
Toronto Maple Leafs (23-13-5)
Washington Capitals (23-17-2)
The Toronto Maple Leafs make the second of their two 2012-13 visits to Verizon Center on Tuesday to supply the opposition for the Capitals’ homestand-closing contest. The game is the first of five straight against Canadian foes for the Capitals.
Washington brings a seven-game winning streak into Tuesday’s tilt with Toronto, its longest winning run since it took seven straight games to start the 2011-12 season. The Capitals have had only two winning streaks greater than seven games in the last 20 years. The Caps won a franchise record 14 games in a row in 2009-10 and they won nine straight in 2010-11.
The Caps have had a couple of days between games for the first time in a couple of weeks. Sunday was a day off, and the Caps reconvened for a Monday practice at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex. Washington is coming off a 6-5 overtime win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday, a win in which the Caps led by four goal late in the second but needed an overtime power play tally from Mike Green to come away with the two points.
“It’s something you never want to let creep into your game, being up [four] goals and letting them back into the game,” says Caps right wing Troy Brouwer. “But it keeps us honest at the same point. I think we got a little complacent. We let off the gas a little bit and nursed the lead to the end. They have skilled players on the other team and they made us pay and got themselves back into the game. For us, going into the third period we didn’t think we needed to score any more goals, just play a solid defensive game. We kind of lapsed on that a little bit and needed one more. For us, we’ve got to take a lesson out of it but at the same time we’ve got to be happy with our two points.”
The win enabled the Caps to push their Southeast Division lead over Winnipeg to four points with six games remaining. The Jets host Carolina on Tuesday night.
Caps captain Alex Ovechkin continued his hot streak, scoring his league-leading 27th goal in the win over the Lightning. Ovechkin’s linemates Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson have also been hot; the trio has accounted for 23 goals and 61 points in 15 games since Caps coach Adam Oates put them together at the start of a March 17 game against Buffalo.
“You need your best players to be your best players,” says Brouwer. “Everyone else around the league who is doing well, team-wise their leading scorers are their top line. And that’s how it should be. Nicky and Ovi have played together for quite a number of years. They’ve got good chemistry between them and then you add another skilled player who can see the ice well like Jojo and that just makes Ovi that much more dangerous because you have two players who can feed him the puck. He’s looking to shoot most of the time, which is helping us out right now.”
Ovechkin has collected 17 of his 27 goals in the last 15 games and he has also climbed to fifth in the NHL’s scoring race with 46 points. Backstrom is third in the league with 38 assists, just three off the league-leading pace set by Tampa Bay’s Martin St. Louis and Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby.
The Caps are 11-1-1 in their last 13 games, but only four of those contests were played against teams currently among the top eight clubs in the Eastern Conference standings. Washington will play five of its final six games against top eight teams, and the sixth game is against Winnipeg, the team chasing the Caps for the Southeast crown.
“We need to not think about it,” says Brouwer of the schedule ahead. “We need to continue playing the way we’ve been playing. I think our only loss in our last 12 games was against Pittsburgh [Ed: Pittsburgh is one of only two regulation losses in the Caps’ last 14 games], and we played a great hockey game. It was one of those games that we felt we deserved to win, but sometimes you’re not going to win them.
“We beat Montreal the other night and played real well. Our last [six] games here, we’ve got some pretty tough teams with Boston and Toronto [Tuesday] night. We do have to get confidence against them and try to get wins against them going into the playoffs. But even if we drop a game or two against teams that are ahead of us in the conference going forward here, we still have confidence in here, we still know we’re playing really good hockey and we can beat anyone any night.”
Toronto is in position to make its first visit to the playoffs since 2003-04, a berth that will end the longest current postseason drought among the 30 NHL clubs. The Leafs are third in the Northeast Division and fifth in the Eastern Conference, and only a colossal collapse would keep them from playing playoff hockey this spring.
The Leafs have been on a solid late-season run of their own, picking up at least a point in 13 of their last 14 contests (9-1-4).
Toronto comes to town on the heels of a 2-0 shutout win over the Devils on Monday night, a victory the Maple Leafs managed despite getting just 13 shots on goal, one of which was an empty-net goal.
James Reimer made 32 saves in the Toronto nets to run his record to 17-5-5 on the season. It’s possible that the Leafs would go with Ben Scrivens on Tuesday in the District. Scrivens has not played since a March 26 win over the Panthers. He defeated the Caps in Toronto’s previous visit to Verizon this season, a 3-2 win on March 5.
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