The prospect of the Philadelphia Flyers winning a division title one season after finishing with the worst record in franchise history would be a huge surprise.
The Washington Capitals doing the same after a dismal start in 2007-08 would be just as shocking.
The red-hot Flyers look to extend their Atlantic Division lead when they conclude their regular-season series against league scoring leader Alexander Ovechkin and the Capitals.
Following a dismal 2006-07 that saw them finish 22-48-18, the Flyers overhauled their roster in the offseason, adding forwards Daniel Briere, Scott Hartnell and Joffrey Lupul and defensemen Kimmo Timonen and Jason Smith.
|The recently red-hot Capitals and the equally flamable Flyers wrap up their season series tonight at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)|
Those moves figured to help Philadelphia (30-17-5) contend for a playoff spot, but a division title seemed unlikely. The Flyers, though, currently lead the Atlantic by two points over New Jersey and Pittsburgh, and are only three points behind struggling Ottawa for first in the Eastern Conference.
Steve Downie scored with 4:29 left in the third period and Antero Niittymaki stopped 23 shots in Philadelphia's 3-2 victory Tuesday at Atlanta. Mike Knuble and Mike Richards also scored for the Flyers, winners of five straight on the road and 14 of their last 18 overall (14-3-1).
"We're playing good on the road," Downie said. "We want to keep it going."
With Niittymaki improving to 8-0-0 in his career against Atlanta, Martin Biron is likely to be in net against Washington (25-24-5). Biron is 5-0-0 with a 2.28 goals-against average and one shutout in his last seven appearances.
Knuble, who recorded his first NHL hat trick in 707 career games in a 3-0 win over Anaheim on Saturday, has six goals in his last six games.
After facing Ilya Kovalchuk, the league's second-leading goal scorer, Philadelphia will have to contend with Ovechkin, the NHL leader with 45 goals and 72 points. Ovechkin's second goal of the game 2:28 into overtime lifted the Capitals to a 4-3 come-from-behind victory on Tuesday at Columbus.
"It doesn't matter what the score is - 2-0, 4-0 - you've just got to play," Ovechkin said. "We just have to believe in ourselves. We know we can win the game. It doesn't matter what happens. This was a big game for the young guys. We're just growing up."
Ovechkin has seven game-winning goals this season, tied with New Jersey's Patrik Elias for the league lead.
The Russian-born superstar, who has six goals in his last three games, has always performed well against the Flyers, collecting 11 goals and nine assists in only 11 games.
Tom Poti also scored and set up the game-winning goal for Washington, which pulled within one point of Southeast Division co-leaders Carolina and Atlanta.
Poti has 15 points this season after notching 44 for the New York Islanders in 2006-07.
"I'm having a tough time scoring but I think I'm playing really well defensively and helping the team," Poti said. "It's a huge two points tonight."
Olaf Kolzig figures to be in net for Washington after he sat behind Brent Johnson on Tuesday. Kolzig has won five of his last seven decisions against Philadelphia.
The Flyers are 2-0-1 this season against the Capitals after losing all four meetings in 2006-07. Washington has won three straight visits to Philadelphia after dropping its previous nine games there.