Leafs, Capitals Battle For Playoff Positioning
CAPITALS (30-26-5) at MAPLE LEAFS (29-25-7)
TV: CBC, NHLN-US (HD), CSN-MA
Washington 3-6-1; Toronto 3-6-1
Third of four meetings. Each team has won once on its home ice. Joffrey Lupul
scored a goal and set up three others in a 7-1 rout by the Maple Leafs on Nov. 19, while Dennis Wideman connected twice on the power play as the Capitals responded with a 4-2 victory on Dec. 9.
Both teams are in the midst of stretches that could put a dagger in their postseason hopes if they don't snap out of them soon. Toronto has lost three in a row, including the first two games of their current homestand, while Washington just snapped a three-game skid Friday night with a win at home over Montreal.
Despite enduring a season that has seen Washington fire its coach, Alex Ovechkin continue to slump and the team spend long stretches outside the top eight after winning the Southeast Division the last four seasons, a fifth consecutive title remains well within the Capitals' reach if they can get it together over the next six weeks. They took advantage of a team even worse off than them by blasting the Canadiens 4-1 behind a goal and an assist from Jason Chimera and Ovechkin's 25th of the season in his return after missing one game with a lower-body injury.
"Our guys try and win. They play hard most nights. We were due for one, maybe. We were due for a good hockey game," forward Brooks Laich said. "And we got one at a good time."
Two games still remain for Toronto to get back on course before a stretch in which the Maple Leafs play eight of 10 away from the Air Canada Centre. Goaltending issues stood front and center after the team allowed 27 goals over a six-game stretch, but James Reimer
turned in a fairly solid effort Thursday against the Sharks, stopping 23 of 25 shots. But he was victimized twice in the second period by Patrick Marleau, and the Leafs' response was limited to Jake Gardiner
's goal early in the third of what ended up a 2-1 defeat.
"Points are extremely important right now and every game is a big game for us," forward Tim Connolly
said. "We've got to play that way for a full 60 minutes."
Mathieu Perreault has goals in consecutive games for the Capitals. … Phil Kessel
has 1 goal and 4 assists during a five-game points streak for the Maple Leafs. Kessel has 5 goals and 9 assists over his last 10 games. Gardiner has 2 goals in the last four games, doubling his output over the first 50 games of his rookie season.
Washington forward Nicklas Backstrom remains on injured reserve and hasn't played since early January due to a concussion.
Ovechkin still leads the Capitals in points this season with 46 in 57 games. He's never finished a season as less than a point-per-game player in his career. … Luke Schenn
assisted on Gardiner's goal Thursday -- the two points gave Maple Leafs defensemen 135 this season, which ranks third in the NHL.
There's plenty of pressure on both sides heading into this game, but Toronto forward Tyler Bozak
seemed to be relishing the atmosphere when he spoke after Thursday's loss.
"It's fun to play right now," Bozak said. "We're in a race, we're battling for a playoff spot. These are the games every guy in here wants to play in here, but we've got to do a better job."