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NHL Preview from The Sports Network

Thursday, March 31st (All times eastern)

Columbus Blue Jackets (34-31-11) at Washington Capitals (44-22-11), 7 p.m.

(Sports Network) - Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals will try to bounce back from a loss and continue their push for a fourth consecutive Southeast Division title when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets in tonight's interconference clash at the Verizon Center.

Washington has dropped two of its last three games, including a shootout loss against the desperate Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday, but the playoff-bound Capitals are still in excellent shape to claim another division crown.

Coming into today, the Caps are six points ahead of Tampa Bay for first place in the division with five games left. The Lightning, who host Pittsburgh tonight, do have a game in hand over Washington.

Ovechkin returned from three-game absence due to an undisclosed injury on Tuesday, but the superstar winger's presence couldn't prevent Washington from dropping a 3-2 decision against the visiting Hurricanes. Carolina's Jeff Skinner scored the tying goal in the third and the winner in the shootout for the 'Canes.

Skinner opened up the shootout and snapped a wrister past Semyon Varlamov. Cam Ward then made stops on Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom before Tuomo Ruutu iced the game when he lifted a backhander into the net.

Alexander Semin had a goal and an assist while Marcus Johansson added a goal for the Capitals. Varlamov made 24 stops.

"I thought at times it was a very lackluster game by us," said Washington head coach Bruce Boudreau. "When you don't play with emotion it's tough to win in this league."

Washington fell three points back of the Flyers (102-99), who defeated the Penguins on Tuesday, for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The Flyers are in action tonight against the visiting Atlanta Thrashers.

Varlamov could get the start again tonight if Michal Neuvirth isn't well enough to take the crease. Neuvirth has been bothered by an illness, but was able to serve as the backup on Tuesday.

Caps defenseman Dennis Wideman suffered a lower-body injury in Tuesday's loss and is questionable for this evening's tilt.

Columbus ended a four-game slide Tuesday against Florida, but the club has been all but officially eliminated from the Western Conference playoff race. With just six games left in the regular season, the Blue Jackets find themselves 11 points behind Chicago for the West's eighth and final postseason berth.

The Blue Jackets picked up a 3-2 home win on Tuesday, as Maksim Mayorov was the only skater to score in the shootout. Skating second for Columbus, Mayorov moved slowly in on Scott Clemmensen and wristed a shot into the top right corner that was too crisp for the Panthers goaltender to get his glove on.

Scottie Upshall and Antoine Vermette scored in regulation for the Blue Jackets, who won for just the third time in their last 16 overall (3-8-5). Steve Mason made 29 saves for the win, including 11 in the third period and one in overtime.

"We played a pretty good game," said Columbus head coach Scott Arniel. "We hit some posts. These guys needed a win to lose that crappy feeling we've had for an extended period of time, especially at home. We were real good for most of the game. Guys aren't quitting, they're still playing hard and getting after teams."

The Blue Jackets have lost their last two road games and are 17-14-7 as the guest this year.

Tonight marks the first and only meeting between Columbus and the Caps this season. Washington recorded a win last year in Ohio to end a three-game series losing streak, but the Jackets have won their last two tilts in D.C.

03/31 11:05:13 ET

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