The Washington Capitals can clinch the second seed in the Eastern Conference in their next game. Making that task a little easier is the success they’ve had against their next opponent.
The Capitals look to win their 11th straight over the lowly Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night when they’ll try to sweep the season series for the first time in nine years.
Washington (49-23-8) has won four of its last five to take a four-point lead over New Jersey for the second seed. With anything other than a regulation loss Thursday, the Capitals can clinch that playoff spot. If the Devils (49-27-4) and Capitals finish the regular season with the same amount of points, the tiebreaker is number of wins.
Although they’ve averaged 4.8 goals in the last five contests, the Capitals were disappointed after a 4-2 win over Atlanta on Tuesday, especially Sergei Fedorov, who said he was “not very happy with my performance.”
“I wasn’t really feeling it with my linemates, so we’ll have to regroup and come back with a fresh attitude and try to put the pieces together,” said Fedorov, who scored in the third period.
He wasn’t the only one frustrated. Although Alex Ovechkin had two assists and Tomas Fleischmann added a goal and an assist, Washington attempted just 26 shots - tied for its second-fewest of the season - including only five in the second period.
“It was an ugly win, but it’s OK,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I think we played as good as we had to play.”
Boudreau’s team closes the regular season on the road against Tampa Bay (24-38-18) and Florida. The Capitals have won 10 in a row against the Lightning and have outscored them 26-12 in five wins this season.
Ovechkin has especially given Tampa Bay problems. He has six goals and seven assists against the Lightning this season and caused a commotion during his last visit to the St. Pete Times Forum with his on-ice theatrics after scoring his 50th goal of the season March 19.
Tampa Bay wasn’t able to stop him in the most recent meeting either, as Ovechkin scored twice in a 5-3 win March 27 in Washington.
The Lightning are stumbling as they close out the season. They’ve lost seven in a row - going 0-5-2 - and 10 of 11. They’ve dropped their last two in regulation, including 6-4 to Pittsburgh on Tuesday.
The Penguins led 4-0 in the third period before Jeff Halpern scored the first of his two goals to get Tampa Bay started. The Lightning pulled within 4-3 after Martin St. Louis and Paul Szczechura scored in a 44-second span midway through the period, but Pittsburgh held on for the win.
Tampa Bay was 0-for-7 on the power play to fall to 2-for-26 (7.7 percent) in the last seven games. The Lightning had a pair of two-man advantage opportunities in which they failed to score.
“I don’t know what the stats are,” interim coach Rick Tocchet said, “but when you don’t score on a 5-on-3, I bet you lose 85 percent of the time. It’s really frustrating because … you’re looking for guys to come through.”
St. Louis, Tampa Bay’s leading scorer, has two goals and six assists against Washington this season. He has just one goal in the two home games against the Capitals, though.