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20-17-2

Lightning-Capitals Preview

AP - Sports

Alex Ovechkin is playing a lot like he did during his two MVP seasons for the surging Washington Capitals.

The Tampa Bay Lightning are very familiar with the superstar left wing's scoring exploits.

Ovechkin looks to continue his home dominance of the Lightning on Sunday night, when he attempts to help the Capitals begin building a cushion atop the Southeast Division.

Ovechkin, the Hart Trophy winner in 2007-08 and 08-09, has 14 goals and seven assists over the last 13 games, leading Washington to a 9-3-1 record and move atop the division via a tiebreaker with Winnipeg.

His staggering production has also moved him among the league leaders with 23 goals, while his 14 power-play tallies lead the NHL.

"He brings us energy. He's doing what we expect him to do," goaltender Braden Holtby said. "That's the player we expect out of him and he's doing a great job of it."

Ovechkin, who tops the Capitals (19-17-2) with 41 points, turned in another superb effort Saturday, recording his 12th career hat trick while getting an assist in a 4-3 win at Florida. He got three of those points on the power play, while Washington went 3 for 5 to improve to 7 for 21 over the past five games - four victories.

"We play our way," Ovechkin said. "When everybody gets into the play and everybody plays hard and plays simple, it's going to work, especially with the kind of opportunities we had on the power play."

He has 16 goals and 21 assists in 24 career regular-season meetings at home against the Lightning (16-19-2), getting at least one point in all but three of those contests.

The Capitals have benefited greatly from Ovechkin's dominance of Tampa Bay, going 12-1-1 in the past 14 matchups at Verizon Center, winning all three there last season.

They've split two road meetings this year, with Washington winning the most recent 4-3 on Feb. 14, while Ovechkin failed to get a point and was a minus-2.

It's unclear if the Caps will have Martin Erat available after he suffered a lower-body injury on a hit from behind by the Panthers' Erik Gudbranson in the opening period. The right wing doesn't have a point in two games since being acquired in a deal with Nashville at Wednesday's trade deadline.

The Lightning are tied with Carolina for third in the Southeast, six points behind the Capitals. Although, their playoff hopes took a dent with Saturday's 4-2 defeat at the New York Islanders, their fourth road loss in five games.

"We're playing ever game like it's Game 7 of the playoffs," defenseman Keith Aulie told the team's official website. "We know what's at stake, we know what the standings are, but we're focusing and just taking it game by game."

Steven Stamkos, the league leader with 25 goals, continues to do his part, scoring four goals and setting up five others over the past six games. The star center has five goals and six assists over his last seven meetings with Washington, but he's failed to find the net in two matchups this season.

Matt Carle has totaled six points during a four-game scoring streak, and he's managed four over the last three visits to the nation's capital.

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