Wild-Capitals Preview

The Associated Press

The Minnesota Wild's most recent defeat hurt the Washington Capitals' chances of earning one of the Eastern Conference's final playoff spots.

They can do further damage with a victory Sunday.

Slumping Washington looks to avoid another letdown when it hosts the Wild, who have lost four of their five all-time visits to the nation's capital.

Minnesota's 3-1 loss to Buffalo on Saturday dropped the Capitals (37-30-8) to ninth place in the East, two points behind the eighth-place Sabres with seven games remaining.

Washington hasn't done itself any favors recently either, going 1-2-2 over its last five games after falling 4-3 in overtime to Winnipeg on Friday. Alexander Ovechkin scored twice to extend his goal-scoring streak to four games, giving him eight over his last six contests combined.

Ovechkin's second goal gave the Capitals a 3-0 lead, but they shifted into a defensive-minded approach and allowed the Jets to tie and eventually win the game.

Washington was outshot 19-2 over the third period and overtime.

"It was stupid play by us," Ovechkin said. "We just totally stopped playing after they scored the first goal. We played so different, a defensive style of hockey in the third period. So they just put pucks deep, got pressure and they scored another one."

Coach Dale Hunter defended the move, but also said his team was allowing the opposition to enter the zone too easily.

"You're trying to protect the lead," Hunter said. "Most teams do it. You'll see other teams do the same thing."

Washington will be watching plenty of playoff hockey rather than playing if it doesn't improve during the stretch run. It has a good chance to turn it around against the Wild (31-33-10), whose only win in D.C. was a 4-3 victory Nov. 21, 2002.

Minnesota's struggles seem perplexing given it had the NHL's best record at 20-7-3 following a seven-game winning streak that ended Dec. 10. The Wild have gone 11-26-7 since and are all but out of the Western Conference playoff chase.

They failed to earn their first three-game winning streak since that seven-game run by losing Saturday.

Steven Kampfer scored the game's first goal, and Josh Harding made 34 saves in place of the injured Niklas Backstrom, who still is nursing a lower-body injury suffered March 1.

The Wild recalled Matt Hackett from the team's AHL affiliate, and he's likely to get the start Sunday. He's 3-5-0 with a 2.30 goals-against average in 11 appearances and six starts.

Making matters worse for Minnesota, Matt Cullen broke a finger on his right hand after being hit with a shot in the third period.

Coach Mike Yeo said injuries are no excuse, though.

''I'm so sick of talking about injuries to be honest with you, it's ridiculous,'' said Yeo, whose team is 3-8-1 in its last 12. ''We've still got to play hockey games. It stinks to lose Matt Cullen. It stinks we have guys out of the lineup, but we've got a job to do. Let's make sure we do it.''

Ovechkin scored in the last meeting, though the Wild won 2-1 on Oct. 28, 2010, to earn their sixth victory in the last eight overall matchups.