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In five weeks with his new team, Cristobal Huet is proving to be just as important.
After dominating during a season-high six-game road trip, the Capitals (40-31-8) will try to move into a tie with the Carolina Hurricanes atop the Southeast Division when they meet Tuesday night.
The Southeast winner will be locked in as the third seed in the Eastern Conference, but the second-place finisher in the division could be left out of the postseason. Though the Capitals have 88 points - two fewer than the Hurricanes - they start play ninth in the conference.
The Capitals and Hurricanes each have three games remaining, but this will be their final regular-season meeting. Carolina holds a 4-2-1 series lead.
Washington coach Bruce Boudreau told the Capitals' official Web site his team is poised to take advantage of any opponent.
"I know if we keep winning something good is going to happen," said Boudreau, who took over in November for the fired Glen Hanlon after a 6-14-1 start. "We can only do what we can do. If it takes 95 points to make the playoffs, so be it.
"But I believe if we continue to play like we play, somebody is going to falter once. And we'll be there to jump on them."
Washington went 5-1-0 on its road swing, including a sweep of all four division rivals. In their final road game of the season Sunday, the Caps got a goal and assist from Ovechkin and 32 saves from Huet in a 3-0 win that eliminated Florida from playoff contention.
|Goalie Cristobal Huet has posted an 8-2-0 record, a 1.83 GAA, and two shutouts as a member of the Washington Capitals. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)|
Ovechkin had five goals and five assists during the trip. The likely Art Ross Trophy winner as the league's top scorer has six goals and four assists versus Carolina in 2007-08.
Huet, a surprising trade deadline-day acquisition from Montreal on Feb. 26, has been outstanding. He's won six straight starts and is 8-2-0 with a 1.83 goals-against average and two shutouts with his new club.
Huet stopped 25 shots and three more in the shootout en route to a 3-2 win over Carolina last Tuesday. Ovechkin had a goal in the win.
"We just have to do our job. We can't control what they do," Huet said of the playoff chase. "We think about the next game right now, and that's all we can look at. That's working right now, and we're a pretty confident group. We're going to keep working."
While Washington is looking for its fourth straight home win, Carolina (42-31-6) is trying to move closer to its second division title in three seasons. The Hurricanes squandered a chance to increase their division lead over the Capitals with a 2-1 loss to Tampa Bay on Sunday.
"We've got to come up with four points (to win the division)," Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette said. "It doesn't matter how we do it, but Tuesday night will be a big one, no question about it."
Eric Staal leads Carolina with 36 goals and 43 assists, but hasn't been at his best away from home recently and in Washington throughout his three-year career. He has just four goals and four assists as the Hurricanes have gone 6-6-0 in their last 12 on the road.
Staal hasn't recorded a point in three games at the Verizon Center this season, and has only two goals and six assists in 14 games there.