Preview: Canadiens at Capitals
The Montreal Canadiens do not control their own destiny but a victory over the Capitals in Washington on Thursday could put them in position to reach the Stanley Cup playoffs. Montreal (94 points) is in a three-team scrimmage with Carolina (95) and Columbus (94) for the Eastern Conference wild card spots but the Canadiens would lose the first tiebreaker with the Blue Jackets.
"This was like a playoff game tonight," Montreal coach Claude Julien told reporters after his club defeated Presidents' Trophy winner Tampa Bay 4-2 on Tuesday, improving to 6-1-1 in its last eight games. "We're hoping we see these guys again because more than likely that's what would happen, right? Maybe tonight was the beginning of a series of eight games. We'll see by the end of the week." The Canadiens finish the regular season at home against Toronto on Saturday with Carolina (at Philadelphia) and Columbus (at Ottawa) playing at the same time. Washington, the defending Stanley Cup champion, can clinch its fourth straight Metropolitan Division title with a victory as it leads the Islanders by three points with a showdown at home against New York looming Saturday. "Obviously, it would have been nice to clinch it, but we've got two more chances," center Nicklas Backstrom told reporters after the Capitals lost 5-3 at Florida on Monday. "Hopefully, we can get it done."
TV: 7 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network; TSN2, RDS (Montreal), NBCS Washington
ABOUT THE CANADIENS (43-29-8): Max Domi (team-high 71 points) scored his 28th goal of the season Tuesday and has one point in each of the last four games. Brendan Gallagher (club-most 33 goals) hasn't scored in five games and has been kept off the scoresheet in the last three contests after recording two goals and three assists in the previous three games. Carey Price (35-23-6, 2.50 goals-against average, .917 save percentage) is expected to make his 13th straight start Thursday and has allowed two or fewer goals in nine of his last 11 outings.
ABOUT THE CAPITALS (47-25-8): Alex Ovechkin has already recorded his eighth 50-goal season with a league-high 51, and his 658 goals are 13th in NHL history - 236 shy of matching Wayne Gretzky for all-time supremacy. "I have to be healthy. I have to be in good shape," Ovechkin told reporters about pursuing the record. "I'm going to try to do it, but you don't know what's going to happen in the future." Ovechkin leads the club with 89 points followed by Backstrom (74 points), who's scored three of his 22 goals in the last two games, and Evgeny Kuznetsov (seven of his 72 points in the last four contests).
1. Ovechkin's 18 power-play goals this season trail only Tampa Bay's Brayden Point (20) and Steven Stamkos (19).
2. Washington is 4-for-29 on the power play in its last 10 games while Montreal wasn't short-handed in its past two contests.
3. The clubs split the first two meetings this season with Ovechkin scoring four goals, and Capitals C Lars Eller (12 goals this season) and Gallagher recording three apiece.
PREDICTION: Capitals 3, Canadiens 2