March 29 vs. Carolina Hurricanes at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM Pre-Game: Pre-Cap Podcast at 2 p.m. on washingtoncaps.com
Carolina Hurricanes (35-30-10)
Washington Capitals (44-22-10)
After posting a 4-2 mark on a six-game road swing that took them to some tough buildings in games against some difficult foes, the Capitals return home for a three-game homestand. First up are the Carolina Hurricanes, who are fighting for the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.
Washington’s six-game run on the road was broken into three separate trips, but it included two wins in Montreal as well as victories in New Jersey and Philadelphia.
“When I left,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau, “I said that if we came back 4-2 I’d be very happy [given] the buildings we played in [and] the teams we played. When we played New Jersey they had lost only two out of 26 games. Going into Detroit the night after you play a game in Montreal, it’s tough enough winning in Montreal twice. Going into Philly and even Ottawa – who is playing pretty good hockey right now – [isn’t easy].
“I’m very happy. You’d like to win every game, but to come out of that 4-2 was really good.”
With just two road games remaining on the season, the Caps can match last season’s franchise record of 24 road wins in a campaign if they can come away victorious in each of their final two road games of the season, April 5 at Toronto and April 9 at Florida.
Washington is now 16-6-2 in its last 24 road games. The Capitals have allowed just 49 goals in those 24 contests (2.04 per game). In 16 of their last 24 road games, the Caps have allowed two or fewer goals.
During the recently completed trip, Boudreau coached in the 300th game of his NHL career on Friday night in Ottawa. Boudreau won 184 of his first 300 games in the league (184-78-38), the most of any coach in NHL history after 300 games.
Mike Keenan won 183 of his first 300 games, Toe Blake and Don Cherry each won 176 and Dave Tippett won 172. Boudreau’s points pct. of .677 through 300 games is also the best of any coach in NHL history after 300 games, ahead of Blake’s .668.
Washington took Sunday off and returned to practice on Monday morning at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. All four of Washington’s injured players – forwards Alex Ovechkin and Jason Arnott and defensemen Mike Green and Tom Poti – skated on Monday. Ovechkin and Arnott are still on target to return sometime this week while there is still no timetable on either of the defensemen.
“They skated pretty good today, so they’re getting closer,” says Boudreau of Ovechkin and Arnott. “I haven’t talked to [head athletic trainer Greg Smith] about the actual timeline right now. But they skated really well as part of practice and looked good.”
Green has reported feeling better, as has Poti. Green has been sidelined for more than a month now, since taking a Derek Stepan elbow to the head in a Feb. 25 game against the New York Rangers. That contest was his first game back in the lineup after he had missed the better part of three weeks with inner ear trauma suffered when he was hit near the right ear with a Brooks Orpik slapshot in a Feb. 6 game with the Penguins.
With the start of the playoffs just over two weeks away, the Caps would love to have Green back in the lineup. But they won’t rush him back.
“Things have been so touchy,” says Boudreau. “It’s such a touchy situation these days. We’ll just go with whatever Greg says. If it’s slower than you’d want, it’s unfortunate. But if they feel he’s ready to go, then he’ll be able to practice.”
Poti said on Monday that he is still hopeful of seeing some regular season action before the playoffs get underway. Washington still has six games remaining in the 2010-11 regular season.
In addition to needing points desperately for their fading playoff push, the Hurricanes are seeking to avoid suffering a sweep of the season’s series at the hands of the Capitals this season. Washington has won all five previous meetings between the two clubs this season, with one of those victories coming in the shootout.
Carolina won seven of 11 games leading up to the 2011 NHL All-Star game, which the Hurricanes hosted in Raleigh on Jan. 30. But the Canes dropped five of six immediately after the break, and they’ve won just 10 of 25 games (10-11-4) since the All-Star game. Carolina recently won three straight, doing so for the first time since Jan. 7-11.
Tuesday’s game in the District is the front end of a set of back-to-back games for Carolina, which will travel home to take on Montreal on Wednesday. The Hurricanes are 11-3-4 in the first half of back-to-back games this season.
Carolina netminder Cam Ward leads the NHL with 1,968 saves this season, a franchise record that eclipsed the previous mark held by Sean Burke. Burke had 1,844 saves in 1995-96. Only six NHL netminders have reached the 2,000-save plateau since the 2005-06 season, led by Roberto Luongo (then with Florida), who made 2,275 saves in 2005-06.
Five of the Hurricanes’ final seven games are against teams that currently reside within the top eight in their respective conference. Carolina does have one game (on April 3) remaining with Buffalo, the team it is trying to chase down for the final Eastern Conference playoff berth.
The Hurricanes and Sabres play their next three games on the same nights leading up to their lone remaining meeting at the RBC Center this Sunday.
Carolina visited Washington less than three weeks ago, coming up on the short end of a 2-1 score in a tightly contested tilt.
“It was the start of us starting to play some pretty darn good hockey,” says Canes coach Paul Maurice of that March 11 meeting with the Caps at Verizon Center. “It was 41-26 in shots, our goaltender was real good and our compete level was real high.
“I think that’s been true of every game we’ve played against Washington this season. We’ve generated enough to win those games. I’ve liked the hockey we’ve played against them.”
Only once since the Hartford/Carolina franchise entered the NHL in 1979-80 have the Capitals swept the season series. That was in 1997-98 when Washington went 4-0 against the Hurricanes in the season prior to the formation of the Southeast Division. Washington advanced to the Stanley Cup final that season.