Considering how poorly the Capitals were playing as recently as one month ago, it's hard to believe that they are in position to clinch the Southeast Division for the fifth time in six years, and yet here we are.
With a regulation or overtime victory over the Jets Tuesday at Verizon Center, the Capitals will earn the Eastern Conference's third seed in the upcoming Stanley Cup Playoffs, which officially begin next Tuesday.
Here's what to watch for as Washington prepares for arguably its most important game of the season:
- Many Capitals have pointed to their last two meetings with the Jets as the spark that ignited their recent hot streak. Entering a back-to-back set in Winnipeg March 21 and 22, the Capitals trailed the first-place Jets by nine points in the Southeast Division, but swept both games by a combined score of 10-1. Including those two games, Washington has won 13 of 16 to claim a one-point lead over Winnipeg entering Tuesday's game. "We knew the magnitude of that week," forward Troy Brouwer said. "That was our season. At that point, we were quite a ways out of the playoffs and we needed to find a way back in and came up with a great effort."
- When the Jets last visited Verizon Center, it was all the way back on January 22, when the Capitals opened the home portion of their 2013 schedule with a 4-2 loss. Since then, Washington is 3-0 against Winnipeg, having outscored them 13-1.
- Braden Holtby will start in goal for Washington, which isn't a surprise since he has started 30 of the team's past 35 games. Also, for lack of a better term, Holtby has owned the Jets this season with a 3-1-0 record, 1.25 goals against average, .960 save percentage and two shutouts. Winnipeg goaltender Ondrej Pavelec will oppose him.
- The rest of Tuesday's lineup will look familiar to those who follow the Capitals closely. Nicklas Backstrom will center the first line with Marcus Johansson and Alex Ovechkin on his left and right, respectively. Martin Erat, Mike Ribeiro and Troy Brouwer will comprise the second line, while Jason Chimera, Mathieu Perreault and Eric Fehr are the third line. Aaron Volpatti, Matt Hendricks and Jay Beagle are your fourth line.
- On the defensive end, no changes as well. Karl Alzner and Mike Green will work together, as will John Erskine and John Carlson and Jack Hillen and Steven Oleksy.
- Tuesday's game will feature two of the hottest teams in the NHL. The Capitals have won nine of 10, while the Jets have won six of seven.
- This will be the Capitals' final game within the Southeast Division, which was created in 1998. Next season, the NHL will realign and Washington will join a yet-to-be-named division with Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New Jersey, both New York franchises, Carolina and Columbus. The Capitals have won six Southeast Division titles, but of course, they can make it seven with a victory Tuesday.
For more in-depth analysis, here's a feature of mine from Monday discussing Coach Adam Oates's emphasis on execution over production. And from Sunday, a look at the exclusive list of Hall-of-Famers that Ovechkin joined Saturday by reaching the 30-goal mark.
Puck drop is set for around 7 p.m. We will be reporting live from Verizon Center, with Jason Pugh on the television side for News4 and myself on NBCWashington.com.
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