NHL Preview from The Sports Network
Tuesday, April 6th (All times eastern)
Washington Capitals (52-15-12) at Pittsburgh Penguins (45-26-7), 7:30 p.m.
(Sports Network) - While the Penguins are rested and motivated, the Capitals don't have anything to play for in the regular season's final week. That shouldn't stop Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby from continuing their rivalry.
Crosby-led Pittsburgh will face Ovechkin and Washington for the final time this regular season and try to stay in the hunt for the Atlantic Division title this evening at Mellon Arena.
While the Capitals have already clinched the Presidents' Trophy with a club- record 116 points, the Penguins come into this contest tied with the Devils for first place in the Atlantic Division with 97 points and four games to play. New Jersey, which visits Atlanta tonight, owns the current tie break since it swept its season series with Pittsburgh. That has the Devils in the second spot in the Eastern Conference standings, a point ahead of the Northeast Division-leading Sabres, pushing the Penguins to the fourth seed.
Pittsburgh is well rested, having not played since Saturday's 4-3 overtime victory against Atlanta. Jordan Leopold scored 2:50 into OT and Sidney Crosby had three assists to give the Pens a 4-2-2 mark over their last eight games and a 3-1-0 record on their current six-game homestand that ends on Thursday in what will be the team's final regular-season home game at Mellon Arena.
"I'm happy about the outcome, but win or lose in this game, I was happy with the way our team played for a lot of reasons," Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma said. "The physicality of which we played, the fight of which we played and sticking with it. I liked the way our team kept responding and kept playing our game."
The Penguins were also sparked versus the Thrashers by the return of Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar, who both finished with a goal and an assist. Malkin had missed five straight games and seven of the last eight with a foot injury, while Gonchar was sidelined for four in a row due to illness. Chris Kunitz, though, did suffer an undisclosed injury against Atlanta and is day-to-day.
Crosby comes into this game having gone without a goal in nine of his last 10 games, though he still leads the NHL with a career-high 47 goals, one more than both Ovechkin and Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos.
Crosby has three goals and an assist in three games versus the Capitals this year. Pittsburgh, though, is 0-1-2 in those games and will try to avoid getting swept in its season series by Washington for the first time in club history, though the Caps did go 6-0 with a tie in the 1984-85 series.
Mike Knuble had the game-winning shootout goal for Washington when the two teams last met on March 24, a 4-3 Caps win. Pittsburgh has lost six of its last seven versus Washington and four straight at home in the regular-season series, though it did eliminate the Capitals in seven games in last year's Eastern Conference semifinals.
Ovechkin has five goals and eight points in the three games versus the Penguins this year, but has scored just four goals in his last 18 games overall. He did notched a pair of assists in last night's 3-2 overtime victory versus Boston, giving him 104 points on the season. That is two back of Vancouver's Henrik Sedin for most in the league.
Brooks Laich scored on the power play 44 seconds into OT and Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and an assist in Washington's third straight win. Knuble scored and added a helper and Jose Theodore made 28 saves.
"I thought we played pretty good defensively tonight," said Theodore. "They're a desperate hockey team and it showed tonight. They're tough to play cause they don't give up goals."
Washington also took advantage of already owning the East's top seed and rested defenseman Mike Green last night. He has 19 goals and 55 assists on the season.
Washington is 5-0-3 over its last eight road games and plays its final test as the guest this regular season. It hasn't lost in regulation on the road since Feb. 11.
04/06 10:47:19 ET