A six-game winning streak has moved the Washington Capitals in position for their first postseason berth in five years. Extending the streak will wrap up that playoff spot.
The Capitals seek to clinch the Southeast Division title when they conclude their regular season against the Florida Panthers on Saturday.
Washington (42-31-8) has been unstoppable for nearly a month, winning six straight and 10 of its last 11 games as it seeks its first playoff appearance since 2002-03.
To reach the postseason, the Capitals must win the Southeast. They are tied for the division lead at 92 points with Carolina, which failed to clinch with its 3-2 loss to Florida (38-34-9) on Friday, completing its regular season.
Washington needs just one point to clinch the division, although a regulation loss against the Panthers on Saturday would make Carolina the Southeast champion and the No. 3 seed in the East.
“We haven’t gotten anywhere yet,” coach Bruce Boudreau, who has led the team to a 36-17-7 record since taking over for the fired Glen Hanlon, told the Capitals’ official Web site. “We’re in the same position we were in two weeks, two months ago and it comes down to one day. Hopefully, if we win, it’s in our hands. The guys have played so hard and I just want them to get rewarded.”
Ovechkin registered his league-leading 64th and 65th goals to break Luc Robitaille’s single-season NHL mark for left wings in a 4-1 home victory over Tampa Bay on Thursday.
Washington has won three of its last four matchups with the Panthers, including last Saturday’s 3-0 victory at Florida, where Cristobal Huet made 32 saves for his fourth shutout of the season.
Huet, who has won a career-best eight straight games, stopped 18 shots on Thursday to improve to 10-2-0 with two shutouts and a 1.69 goals-against average since he was acquired from Montreal at the trade deadline.
He is also 2-0-1 with a 0.65 GAA in three starts against Florida this season.
The Panthers, though, have won their last two games and are looking to finish with their most victories since winning a club-record 43 in 1999-2000 - the last time they reached the playoffs.
“These games are crucial for other teams, and not necessarily for our playoff picture, but certainly these last two games, were excited about playing because we’re going to have a say in what’s to come,” said Panthers defenseman Steve Montador, who scored the go-ahead goal at 13:06 of the first period.