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National Hockey League

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NHL Preview from The Sports Network



Saturday, April 20th (All times Eastern)

Washington Capitals (24-18-2) at Montreal Canadiens (27-12-5), 7 p.m.

(Sports Network) - A pair of teams locked in close races for their respective division titles will meet Saturday in Montreal, as the Canadiens host the Washington Capitals in an important battle at the Bell Centre.

With four games left on its regular-season slate, Montreal has a two-point lead over Boston for first place in the Northeast Division. The Bruins, who hold two games in hand over the Canadiens, are hosting Pittsburgh on Saturday after their originally scheduled game with the Penguins was postponed Friday due to the manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombings suspects.

Washington, meanwhile, has a two-point edge over Winnipeg for the Southeast Division crown with four games left for both teams. The Jets are scheduled to host the New York Islanders on Saturday.

Montreal is nine points ahead of Washington for the second seed in the East, meaning the Caps cannot catch the Habs in the standings.

The Capitals had won eight straight before dropping Thursday's decision in Ottawa, but Washington has a good chance at rebounding today against the Canadiens. Montreal has lost seven of its past eight games in this series and the Caps have claimed five consecutive wins at the Bell Centre.

Washington was outshot by a 38-19 margin in the 3-1 loss to the Senators. Braden Holtby stopped 35 shots for the Caps, but it was his turnover that led to Cory Conacher's game-winning tally in the second period.

Mike Ribeiro lit the lamp for the Capitals, who suffered their first regulation loss since March 26 against the Islanders.

"For whatever reason we were flat tonight," said Ribeiro. "We put together a few good shifts, but we weren't able to get any momentum going."

The Caps lost centerman Nicklas Backstrom to injury on Thursday, as he left the game after getting hit in the right arm by a shot from teammate Mike Green. Backstrom, who has 44 points on six goals and 38 assists this season, was able to participate in a full practice on Friday and should be ready to go for Saturday's game.

Saturday's tilt is the final road game of the regular season for Washington, which will close their schedule with three straight at home. The homestand begins Tuesday with an important matchup against the second-place Jets.

Washington is 13-8-0 at home this season and 11-10-2 on the road.

The Canadiens were able to end a three-game slide on Thursday, beating the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning in dramatic fashion. Brian Gionta scored the game-winning goal with 46.4 seconds left to lift Montreal to a 3-2 triumph.

Yannick Weber's shot from the left circle was wide, but bounced off the boards and right to Gionta in front of the net. Gionta was hit from behind by a Tampa Bay defender, but still managed to get the disc into the back of the net.

Gionta finished with two goals and Alex Galchenyuk also tallied for the Canadiens, who led the game 2-0 at one point in the second period before allowing Tampa Bay to get the next two goals.

Cary Price turned aside 32-of-34 shots for the win.

"The first period we had some great chances, but we also gave up good chances too. Carey kept us in the game," Gionta said. "Some of the saves he made gave us a chance to take the lead and win that game. If it wasn't for him, it would have been tight down to the end, but we were able to rebound."

Saturday's contest is the regular-season finale at Bell Centre, where the Canadiens have built a 14-6-3 record this season. Montreal will close the season with road tests in New Jersey, Winnipeg and Toronto.

04/20 11:16:50 ET

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