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Capitals, Jets set to battle for division lead

Tuesday, 04.23.2013 / 12:49 PM
Dan Rosen  - NHL.com Senior Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- It will be a night of simple math for the Washington Capitals.

Beat the Winnipeg Jets in regulation or overtime at Verizon Center, and the Capitals clinch the Southeast Division title and the third seed in the Eastern Conference.

"This is the kind of game you want to play," Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom said following the morning skate at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. "I think everybody is very comfortable."

A shootout win by the Capitals on Tuesday won't be enough to clinch because the tiebreaking scenarios would still give the Jets an outside chance at winning the division despite the fact they will have one game remaining.

The Capitals have two to play after facing the Jets.

"Right now it's all about us," Alex Ovechkin said.

The Jets are saying the same thing.

If Winnipeg beats Washington in regulation on Tuesday, it will take over the lead in the Southeast Division and jump from ninth to third in the Eastern Conference standings.

The Jets are not in control of their own playoff destiny, but their win over the Buffalo Sabres on Monday moved them to within one point of the Capitals, New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators.

"We wanted to put ourselves in a position where [Tuesday] is going to be a meaningful game and we've done that," Jets captain Andrew Ladd said. "So here it is."

The Capitals, though, don't feel they have too much to fear in the Jets, a team they have beaten three straight times this season, including twice in back-to-back games at MTS Centre last month.

In fact, it was there in the Jets' home building that the Capitals started to play like a team good enough to raise another division championship banner to the Verizon Center rafters.

They kicked off a 13-2-1 run with a 4-0 win over the Jets on March 21 then a 6-1 drubbing the next night.

"When we played those two games against them last time we played great hockey, that's the way we need to play," Capitals left wing Marcus Johansson told NHL.com. "We've been doing that every night since we played them. We need to keep doing the same thing."

Braden Holtby made 20 saves for the shutout on March 21, starting a stretch in which he has posted an 11-2-1 record with a 2.17 goals-against average and .932 save percentage.

Alex Ovechkin scored a goal and dished out two assists in that 4-0 victory. His hot streak actually started a few games prior, but Ovechkin's three-point night in Winnipeg kicked off a run of nine multipoint efforts in the past 16 games.

He has 18 goals and nine assists for 27 points over the stretch.

Nicklas Backstrom has 22 points since the Capitals touched down in Winnipeg last month. Troy Brouwer, who scored in each of those games at Winnipeg, has nine goals in the past 16 games after scoring 10 in the first 28 of the season.

Mike Green returned from a groin injury in time for that trip to Winnipeg and has eight goals and six assists since.

"We played good against Pittsburgh the game before those two games," Backstrom said, "but we started off on a roll [after those games]."

For the Jets, those two losses to Washington started a 2-7-0 stretch that dropped them from third in the East to 10th by April 6. They've won six of seven since (6-0-1) but have lost ground (one point) on the Capitals, who have played one more game over that stretch.

The Jets won't have either defenseman Zach Bogosian (concussion) or center Kyle Wellwood (broken hand) for the game Tuesday.

"They'll be coming, they'll be coming for sure," Jets coach Claude Noel said of the Capitals. "They'll know exactly what we're doing and we're going to have to put our best foot forward. We know what we did last time we played them in our building and they'll be all we can handle. We've got to give 'em our best."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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