March 25 vs. Carolina Hurricanes at RBC Center
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM, 106.7 FM and XM Pre-Game: Pre-Cap Podcast sat 2 p.m. on washingtoncaps.com
Washington Capitals (49-14-10)
Carolina Hurricanes (30-34-9)
A week after absorbing a 4-3 overtime loss to the Hurricanes in Carolina and a night after a 4-3 shootout win over the Penguins on home ice, the Capitals head back to Raleigh to close out the season’s series with the Hurricanes on Thursday night at RBC Center.
With a win over the Canes on Thursday, the Caps can record their 50th victory of the season, a milestone achieved just twice previously in franchise history. With three more road games remaining this season, Washington is also seeking its 23rd road victory. The 2009-10 Capitals are the fourth team in franchise history to record 22 road wins, but this year’s edition is seeking to be the first to move beyond that mark.
The Canes have played the Caps tough this season. Washington has won three of the previous five meetings between the two teams in 2009-10, but only one of those victories came in regulation.
Goaltender Jose Theodore won his seventh straight decision with Wednesday’s win over the Penguins. Theodore had a 10-game winning streak earlier this season, and he has rolled up a gaudy 17-0-2 record in his last 19 appearances. He has posted a 2.42 GAA and a .927 save pct. during his remarkable run, which covers a span of 71 days.
Theodore’s spree of 19 straight decisions without a regulation loss is the longest streak of its kind in the NHL in the last 10 seasons.
Although the Capitals are playing the second half of back-to-back games on Thursday in Carolina, Caps coach Bruce Boudreau did not rule out the possibility of starting Theodore again against the Hurricanes.
“We’ll see,” says Boudreau of the possibility of starting Theodore in games on consecutive nights. “I haven’t done the back-to-backs yet with him. I’m thinking it might be time. We’ll see.”
Boudreau made that statement prior to Wednesday’s game. Theodore made 39 saves against the Penguins, including 17 in the first period. He stopped two of four in a clutch shootout performance to help the Caps to victory.
Semyon Varlamov was in goal last Thursday when Washington lost a 4-3 shootout decision to the Canes. The Capitals took a 2-1 lead into the third period in that game.
Theodore has all but nailed down the No. 1 netminding job for the Capitals heading into the playoffs. In his seven March starts, Theodore is 7-0 with a 1.95 GAA and a .937 save pct. He is now 27-7-6 on the season as he bids for the fourth 30-win campaign of his NHL career.
Caps center Nicklas Backstrom recorded his 60th assist of the season in Wednesday’s win. In doing so, he establishes a single-season career best in points (89) and records the seventh season with 60 or more helpers in franchise history. Backstrom and Hockey Hall of Fame defenseman Scott Stevens are the only two Caps ever to have two seasons with 60 or more assists.
Backstrom is half a dozen assists shy of matching his single-season career best of 66, set last season. The all-time Washington single-season mark is 76, set by Dennis Maruk in 1981-82.
Washington has killed off 19 of 22 (86.3%) opposition power plays in its last half dozen games. Two of the three power play goals the Caps have surrendered during that span have come while the opposition enjoyed a two-man advantage.
Thursday’s game is the third meeting between the Caps and Canes in the last 15 days, and it starts off a two-game homestand for the Hurricanes. Atlanta visits the RBC Center on Saturday. Carolina is 19-15-3 on its home ice sheet this season and it has won nine of its last dozen games in Raleigh.
The Canes lost a 3-2 overtime contest to the Lightning in Tampa Bay on Tuesday.
With 69 points, the Hurricanes are 13th in the NHL’s Eastern Conference standings. They are nine points behind eighth place Boston and would need to hop over five teams to get into the postseason tourney.
Carolina comes into Thursday’s game with a “tragic number” of nine. Any combination of nine points either gained by Boston or not gained by Carolina will eliminate the Canes from postseason contention.
Injuries are a big part of the reason why Carolina went from playing in the Eastern Conference finals last spring to 13th in the East this season, and injuries reared their ugly head in Raleigh again on Wednesday. That’s when the Hurricanes announced that forward Tuomo Ruutu will undergo shoulder surgery and will be lost for the remainder of the season.
Carolina is already without defensemen Tim Gleason and Alexandre Picard; both may miss the rest of the 2009-10 campaign. Goaltender Cam Ward is also on the sidelines, but he could return next week.
The Hurricanes have had a great deal of difficulty when down a man of late. Carolina has killed just 21 of 31 (67.7%) opposition power plays in its last 10 games. The Capitals have clicked on three of their seven power play chances (42.9%) against the Canes during that stretch.