Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals are doing everything they can to earn a playoff spot. Winning six straight games for the first time in over eight years needs to be part of that.
Ovechkin looks to set an NHL record while helping the red-hot Capitals in their playoff push Thursday night when they face a must-win game against the lowly Tampa Bay Lightning.
Washington (41-31-8) has been one of the league’s hottest teams lately, winning five straight games and nine of its last 10. That surge has pulled the Capitals within two points of Southeast Division-leading Carolina and within one of eighth-place Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference.
A 4-1 victory over the visiting Hurricanes on Tuesday prevented Carolina from clinching the Southeast and temporarily moved the Capitals into a tie for the division lead. The Hurricanes, though, moved two points ahead with a 6-2 win over Tampa Bay (31-40-9) on Wednesday.
Carolina can wrap up the division crown and the No. 3 seed in the East by beating Florida on Friday in its regular-season finale or by having the Capitals lose one of their final two games in regulation.
The Flyers have two games remaining—Friday against New Jersey and Sunday versus Pittsburgh—while Washington closes its regular season Saturday at home against Florida.
“We have two more games that are going to be tough to win. Not everything is in our hands, yet,” goaltender Cristobal Huet told the Capitals’ official Web site. “We just have to do our job and continue playing the way we did the last two weeks.”
Ovechkin scored his league-leading 63rd goal, and Huet made 21 saves Tuesday, giving Washington its first five-game win streak since March 3-11, 2001. The Capitals haven’t won six in a row since Jan. 8-19, 2000.
“You could tell what was at stake. If this is what it’s like in the playoffs in the NHL, no wonder it’s an exciting game,” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. “The NHL knew what they were doing when they put the schedule together. If they wanted tight races, they got it.”
Ovechkin tied the NHL record for most goals by a left wing in a single season, established by Luc Robitaille with Los Angeles in 1992-93.
Whether they qualify for the postseason or not, the Capitals have undergone a remarkable transformation since Boudreau was named head coach in late November. They ranked 30th of 30 NHL teams when the change was made, and have since gone 35-17-7 under Boudreau.
Tampa Bay had gotten at least one point in three straight games (2-0-1) before losing 2-0 to Atlanta on Monday and to Carolina on Wednesday.
Those defeats have come on the road, where the Lightning are a league-worst 11-22-6 and have been outscored 21-10 during a four-game skid. They are 1-8-2 in their last 11 away from home.
“It’s been a tough year. We’ve had some personnel changes. We’re trying to work together and get better as a team, but obviously, we know where we’re at,” forward Martin St. Louis said. “We’re trying to work for the future and trying to work hard to come together as a team.”
Ovechkin has three goals and three assists in seven games this season against the Lightning, but hasn’t scored a goal in any of the last four meetings.
Washington is 5-2-0 against Tampa Bay, winning the last four meetings—all by one goal.