Capitals look to bolster bid for Metro title vs. Jackets


COLUMBUS, Ohio -- As the Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets enter the final week of the regular season, there's still so much at stake for each team.

The Capitals, Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins are battling for the Metropolitan Division title, the top seed in the Eastern Conference and the Presidents' Trophy.

The Capitals (51-18-8) are in the driver's seat going into Sunday's game against the Blue Jackets. Washington has a four-point lead on Columbus (49-20-8) and is five ahead of Pittsburgh.

A win in Nationwide Arena would strengthen the Capitals' position with four games remaining after Sunday night and give them a solid leg up for home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.

If the Blue Jackets have any designs on winning the division and the finishing atop the East, this game is almost a must win. A loss in regulation would put them six points behind the Capitals and their remaining schedule is not easy with a road game at Pittsburgh on Tuesday and a back-to-back during the final weekend of the season.

"It's really good we're playing these teams and we're playing teams even later than these that there's going to be a lot on the line for them," Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said.

Both teams are coming off losses on Friday night. The Capitals fell behind early and lost 6-3 to the lowly Arizona Coyotes. The Blue Jackets were beaten 3-1 on the road by the Chicago Blackhawks.

Capitals coach Barry Trotz was upset with the team's performance against the Coyotes and in road wins earlier in the week over the Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild.

"We were junk," Trotz said. "We have to start from scratch. ... We've been working all year to get some separation. We had an opportunity and we let it slip away."

The Blue Jackets have lost two straight. They gave up a 1-0 lead in the final minutes on Thursday night at Carolina and fell 2-1 in overtime.

Columbus is the only remaining NHL team that does not have a losing streak longer than two games this season. The Blue Jackets will be trying to avoid a third straight loss.

The Blue Jackets finished March with a 10-4-2 record largely on the strength of Sergei Bobrovsky's goaltending. The NHL's second star of the month owned a 9-1-1 mark with a 1.09 goals-against average, a .967 save percentage and four shutouts in 11 starts during March. He leads the league in wins with 41.

"We have to understand in here that we're a great team too," Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno said. "You don't get this many points by fluke. We belong in this company. Now it's going out there and making sure your game is where it needs to be."

Columbus has relied on Bobrovsky and its defense while its offense has struggled. In four of the past five games, the Blue Jackets have scored only one goal.

The Capitals have plenty of firepower, led by Alex Ovechkin (33 goals, 66 points), T.J. Oshie (32 goals, 55 points) and Nicklas Backstrom (23 goals, 83 points) that will challenge Bobrovsky.

In the opposite goal, Washington's Braden Holtby is coming off one of his worst games of the season. The reigning Vezina Trophy winner gave up three goals in the first period against the Coyotes, was pulled and then reinserted before the start of the second.

"That's something that can't happen and I'll be better next time," Holtby said. "We got away from the things we were having success with. It was a bit of a wakeup call. Maybe it was a good thing at this time because we've got a big game against Columbus."

In three previous meetings between the teams this season, the Blue Jackets are 2-1-1. The Capitals won 2-1 in a shootout in the last matchup on March 23.

"You should be happy you're playing big games this time of year," Capitals forward Justin Williams said. "Columbus is a big one."

The Blue Jackets could be without forward Lukas Sedlak, who left Friday's game in the second period with an upper-body injury and did not return.

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