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April 23 vs. Winnipeg Jets at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 p.m.
TV: Comcast SportsNet
Radio: 106.7 The Fan/Capitals Radio Network
Winnipeg Jets (24-19-3)
Washington Capitals (25-18-2)
Washington opens a three-game season-ending homestand on Tuesday against the Winnipeg Jets in what will be the final Southeast Division game ever for both teams and the penultimate Southeast Division game ever. With a regulation or overtime win in Tuesday’s tilt against the Jets, the Caps would sew up their fifth Southeast Division crown in the last six seasons. Winnipeg is just a point behind the Caps for the top spot in the Southeast.
Having had their eight-game winning streak stopped in a 3-1 loss to the Senators in Ottawa on Thursday, the Capitals rebounded with a convincing 5-1 win over the Canadiens in Montreal on Saturday. Caps captain Alex Ovechkin scored twice against the Habs, as did Troy Brouwer. Ovechkin now has eight straight 30-goal seasons and Brouwer is one goal shy of his second 20-goal campaign in the NHL.
Braden Holtby made 35 saves to earn his 21st win of the season. Holtby has started 29 of Washington’s last 34 games now, and he is 20-8-1 with four shutouts, a 2.26 GAA and a .930 save pct. in those 29 starts.
The Caps have not lost successive games since a three-game skid from March 9-12, going 41 days now without losing contests consecutively. Washington is 15-4-1 in 20 games over that span.
Washington’s Saturday night win over the Habs was a strong rebound after a lackluster game in Ottawa on Thursday.
“I think beside Ottawa we really haven’t played a bad game,” says Caps defenseman Jack Hillen. “Even in Ottawa, that’s about as poorly as we can play. Credit to Ottawa; they played well. They played really well. But we did not bring our ‘A’ game and we were still in the game. [Eric Fehr] has a breakaway [scoring chance] there to tie it up. I think even with playing a bad game, we have a lot of confidence and this team is rolling. But having said that, we’ve got to finish strong here. We’ve got three huge, tough games and we’ve got to finish strong to go into the playoffs the right way.”
The Caps lost their 2012-13 home opener to the Jets, a 4-2 loss back on Jan. 22. The Capitals won all three games played between the two teams in Winnipeg this season, outscoring the Jets by a combined total of 13-1 in those three contests played over a span of 21 days in March.
“That was our season,” says Brouwer of the consecutive contests played in Winnipeg on March 21-22. “At that point, we were quite a ways out of the playoffs and we needed to find a way back in. We came up with a great effort. We’re expecting them to come in hot and be excited to play because the playoffs could come down to this game.”
None of those games mean anything now, only Tuesday’s game does. And Tuesday’s game means a lot to both clubs, who have shared occupancy of the Southeast Division since the Jets began their NHL existence as the expansion Atlanta Thrashers in 1999-00.
“It’s their season and it’s our season,” notes Hillen. “It’s a playoff game [Tuesday]. I expect the building to be rocking, the fans to be rocking. I think it’s going to be one of those games that you relish as a player, one of those fun games. Throughout the course of the regular season, sometimes there are games where you’ve just got to get your body up and get through them. But this is one of those games where you’re ready for it; you’re up. It should be exciting.”
The game means more to Winnipeg than it does to Washington. While the Caps could clinch the Southeast title with a regulation victory over the Jets, Washington would still have control of its own playoff destiny – and would control its destiny in regards to the Southeast Division title – even if it loses Tuesday’s game in regulation.
If the Jets run the table and win their final two games, they’ll finish with 55 points. Washington could lose Tuesday’s game to the Jets and still surpass them in the standings by winning its final two games of the season on Thursday against Ottawa and on Saturday against Boston.
Among all clubs currently outside the top eight in the Eastern Conference standings, Winnipeg is the only team with any mathematical playoff hope remaining.
The Jets lost five straight games from March 28-April 4, a skid in which they were outscored by a decisive combined total of 20-6. Winnipeg then returned to Manitoba for a lengthy homestand, and it righted its ship with that extended stretch of home cooking. The Jets went 5-0-1 on that six-game homestand. With its 2-1 win over the Sabres in Buffalo on Monday night, the Jets have now earned a point in seven straight games (6-0-1).
Winnipeg’s points streak is its longest since it went 6-0-1 in a seven-game span from Nov. 22-Dec. 6, 2006 during its previous incarnation as the Atlanta Thrashers. Monday’s win over the Sabres moves the Jets to within a single point of the New York Rangers for eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings. The Rangers have three games remaining while the Jets have just two.
Monday’s victory did not come without a cost for the Jets. Winnipeg head coach Claude Noel announced that the Jets lost forward Kyle Wellwood to injury in the Buffalo game. The Jets were already playing without several key performers in veteran center Olli Jokinen (ankle), forward Nik Antropov (lower body), and top-four defensemen Tobias Enstrom (back) and Zach Bogosian (upper body).
The Jets will play their final road game of the season on Tuesday in Washington before returning home to host the Montreal Canadiens at MTS Centre in their regular season finale on Thursday.
Jets left wing and team captain Andrew Ladd has helped to will his team into the outskirts of the playoff chase, and he was recognized for those efforts on Monday when he was named the NHL’s No. 1 start for the week ending April 21. Ladd had two goals and six assists for eight points in three games last week as he helped the Jets collect five out of possible six points in the back half of the team’s six-game homestand.