CAPITALS (47-14-9) at HURRICANES (28-33-8)
Last 10 -- Capitals 6-2-2; Hurricanes 6-3-1
Season series -- It's the fifth of six games between the Southeast Division rivals. The Capitals have won three of the first four meetings, but all three have been one-goal victories, including a 4-3 OT win last Wednesday in Washington.
Big story -- Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin will sit out the final game of his two-game suspension for his "reckless" hit on Chicago defenseman Brian Campbell in Sunday's game that left Campbell with a broken clavicle and broken ribs. However, the Caps are 7-2 without Ovechkin this season after winning in 7-3 in Florida Tuesday night. Scott Walker and Joe Corvo will play in Carolina for the first time since getting dealt to Washington two weeks ago.
Capitals -- The Capitals sent another strong message in Florida that Ovechkin isn't the only one who drives the bus for this team. Brooks Laich had a pair of goals and an assist in the 7-3 win over the Panthers, giving the likeable left wing 5 goals and 6 assists in the nine games the Caps have played without Ovechkin. Six players scored and 13 registered points in the win. Somehow the Capitals are averaging 4.8 goals per game without Ovechkin this season. They are averaging an NHL-best 3.90 goals per game for the season. Each of the Caps' third liners -- Jason Chimera, Brendan Morrison and Eric Fehr -- scored goals.
"Maybe we rely on Alex too much to score goals," Chimera told the Washington Post. "It's lines like our line that have to pick up the slack, and I think we did a good job."
Hurricanes -- They may be 6-3-1 over their last 10, but the Hurricanes have lost back-to-back games by a combined score of 9-2. Even though they traded away a lot at the deadline, they looked like a team that could put a scare into teams like the Bruins, Rangers, Thrashers and Lightning, who are fighting for the final few playoff berths in the East. However, the 'Canes haven't continued at that pace and are still stuck at 14th in the conference, now 10 points behind the eighth-place Bruins. Justin Peters will start in net as Cam Ward is still out with a bad back. Manny Legace started Tuesday against Boston and gave up five goals on 37 shots.
"It's pretty tough right now for sure," said forward Erik Cole, who scored twice in a 5-2 loss to Boston on Tuesday. "It feels as bad as it did early in the year right now, and it's a feeling we haven't had in this room for quite a while."
Who's hot -- Caps center Nicklas Backstrom has five points over his last two games and eight points in his last four.
Injury report -- According to the Washington Post, the Caps had to send forward Boyd Gordon home after Tuesday's game to get treatment on the bad back that has caused him problems for most of the season. Gordon wasn't going to play Thursday anyway. Milan Jurcina is also still out. For the 'Canes, Ward is still nursing his back injury and will miss his 14th straight game.
Stat pack -- Washington's Mike Green picked up his 53rd assist of the season Tuesday night, giving him 70 points for the second straight season. Only 12 defenseman in NHL history have put together back-to-back 70-point seasons.
Puck drop -- "They try harder because the game's No. 1 player is not there," Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. "It's like not relying on big brother. When he's there's and it's a close game you're always saying, 'Let's keep it a close game, Alex is going to score and tie it.' But when he's not there, they know they have to take it upon themselves to do it."