March 2 vs. New Jersey Devils at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 1500AM, 820AM, XM and Caps Radio Network Pre-Game: Pre-Cap at 2 p.m., Two-Man Advantage at 5:00 p.m., John Walton’s one-on-one audio with Dale Hunter at 5:00 p.m., all on washingtoncaps.com.
New Jersey Devils (35-23-5)
Washington Capitals (32-26-5)
Washington’s season-long five-game homestand continues on Friday night when the New Jersey Devils pay their second and final visit to Verizon Center this season. The game is the second of three straight against Atlantic Division foes; the Caps opened the homestand with a thrilling 3-2 come-from-behind victory over the New York Islanders on Tuesday.
The Caps trailed the Islanders 2-0 with less than four minutes remaining in Tuesday’s tilt, and they were minutes away from suffering a second straight home ice whitewashing at the hands of the Islanders.
Washington winger Troy Brouwer scored his first goal in four weeks with 3:29 left to halve the New York advantage, then he netted his second of the night and 17th of the season to knot the score at 2-2 with just 25.5 seconds left and goaltender Michal Neuvirth pulled for an extra attacker.
Caps captain Alex Ovechkin won it for Washington with an unassisted strike in overtime, the 11th game-winning overtime goal of his NHL career. Since he entered the league at the start of the 2005-06 season, no other NHL player has scored more overtime game-winners than Ovechkin. Four of those overtime tallies have come at the Islanders’ expense.
Tuesday’s game marked just the third time in Washington’s 37-season franchise history in the NHL that the team had rebounded from a two-goal deficit with less than four minutes remaining in the third period to win the game.
The win was Washington’s third in a row, marking just the fourth time this season the Caps have won as many as three games in succession. They’ll aim for four straight on Friday against the Devils.
Neuvirth won his third straight game in Tuesday’s triumph over the Islanders, and he seems to be a good bet to get a fourth straight start for the first time since he started five straight contests from Dec. 15-26.
Neuvirth came on in relief of Tomas Vokoun in each of the latter’s two most recent starts, at Carolina on Feb. 20 and at Ottawa on Feb. 22. If he starts on Friday against the Devils, Neuvirth will be making his sixth straight appearance.
“I feel pretty good,” says Neuvirth. “I felt good in Carolina, and I thought I had a good game in Ottawa. After that, it was a big three wins for us and we’ve got to keep this thing going.”
Although the Caps’ primary standings focus is on catching the Florida Panthers for the top spot in the Southeast Division, Washington can also put some pressure on the teams immediately in front of it in the Eastern Conference standings this weekend. Heading into Thursday night’s NHL games, the Caps trail seventh-place New Jersey by five points and
“It doesn’t matter who we’re going to play,” says Ovechkin. “We just have to play our game, we have to win the game. Right now, that’s the big goal for us.”
The Devils went into Thursday night’s NHL action in fourth place in the NHL’s Atlantic Division and seventh place in the Eastern Conference. They dropped a 4-3 overtime decision to the Bruins in Boston for their fourth straight loss (0-3-1). Prior to that skid, the Devils were on a 9-1-1 roll.
New Jersey made a pair of shrewd additions to its roster in the days and weeks leading up to the NHL’s Feb. 27 trade deadline. On Jan. 20, the Devils shipped defenseman Joe Sova and a fourth-round pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft to the Carolina Hurricanes for veteran left wing Alexei Ponikarovsky.
The Devils are Ponikarovsky’s fifth team since the start of the 2009-10 season. In 49 games with the Hurricanes this season, the 31-year-old Russian had seven goals and 15 points. In just 16 games with the Devils, the five-time 20-goal scorer has posted five goals and 11 points.
Three days before the deadline, Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello moved three players – defenseman Kurtis Foster and forwards Nick Palmieri and Stephane Veilleux – to the Minnesota Wild for veteran blueliner Marek Zidlicky.
Zidlicky has averaged 20 or more minutes per night in seven of his eight NHL seasons, including 2011-12. He has scored 42 of his 60 career NHL goals on the power play, an area in which New Jersey could use a jolt. The devils entered Thursday night’s game in Boston with the league’s 20th ranked power play at 16.6%.
Future Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur started Thursday’s game against the Bruins, his ninth in succession. Veteran Johan Hedberg is slated to get the start for the Devils in the District on Friday.
Hedberg was last in net for a 4-3 shootout loss to St. Louis on Feb. 9. He is 13-7-2 this season with a 2.53 GAA and a .908 save pct. Lifetime against the Capitals, Hedberg is 12-6-2 with two shutouts, a 2.42 GAA and a .913 save pct. In a dozen career appearances (11 starts) at Verizon Center, Hedberg is 6-3-2 with a 2.43 GAA and a .909 save pct.
With the 39-year-old Brodeur and the 38-year-old Hedberg, the Devils are just the second team in NHL history with a pair of netminders both aged 38 or older. The first was the 1969-70 St. Louis Blues, who advanced to the Stanley Cup final with 41-year-old Jacques Plante and 38-year-old Glenn Hall handling the lion’s share of the netminding chores. Both Plante and Hall went on to be enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame.