CAPITALS (28-21-5) at RANGERS (35-13-5)
TV: NBC (HD), NHLN-CA, RDSI (HD)
Last 10: Washington 4-3-3; New York 7-2-1.
Season series: This is the third of four meetings between these Eastern Conference rivals. Each club has claimed a three-goal victory in splitting the first two matchups, which were both in Washington, D.C. In the first encounter on Nov. 25, Ruslan Fedotenko scored twice, Ryan Callahan notched three assists and the Rangers scored three times in a span of 4:18 early in the second period en route to a 6-3 win. In the second matchup on Dec. 28, a pair of goals from Alexander Semin and 31 saves from Tomas Vokoun anchored a 4-1 victory for the Capitals.
Big Story: This Sunday matinee on NBC features the top squad in the Eastern Conference squaring off with a team that has been alternating between the third seed in the East and the fringe of the top eight in the last week. New York, 18-5-1 in its last 24 games, has a five-point advantage over Boston for the No. 1 spot in the East and trails Detroit by just one point for the most points in the League. Meanwhile, Washington -- which has 61 points -- finds itself in a neck-and-neck battle with Florida for the Southeast Division lead. Both teams have played 54 games and the Panthers currently hold a two-point edge, pushing the Capitals into ninth in the East. With a decent possibility that only one team from the Southeast will make the playoffs, points are at a premium for Washington with less than two months left in the season.
Capitals: Leading 2-0 on power-play goals by Alex Ovechkin and Semin, the Capitals were 2:15 away from an uplifting win over Winnipeg on Thursday night. Two goals for the Jets in the blink of an eye changed all of that. With Roman Hamrlik already in the penalty box for slashing, Brooks Laich was whistled for playing the puck with a broken stick with just under three minutes remaining. A 5-on-3 advantage became a rare 6-on-3 when Winnipeg pulled its goalie, and the result was a goal by Evander Kane to cut Washington's lead in half. Just 12 seconds later, a drive from center ice by Dustin Byfuglien deflected off Washington's Karl Alzner and skipped past Vokoun for the tying goal, eventually sending the game into a shootout. Ovechkin converted in the tiebreaker, but the Jets put two pucks behind Vokoun to down the Caps, 3-2, in front of a stunned sellout crowd of 18,506 at the Verizon Center.
"We're not OK with just one point," Troy Brouwer said. "We feel two should have been ours and they should have been going [away] with none. But that's hockey, I guess. That's how things happen. We've just got to try and make sure that we're getting points and when we have leads, we've got to protect those leads."
Besides letting a point slip away, the Capitals also lost some sorely-needed momentum, as they play five of their next six games on the road, where they are just 9-14-3. They can regain a lot of steam, though, and put Thursday's heartbreaking loss behind them if they can manage to beat one of the premiere teams in the NHL on a national stage Sunday.
Rangers: Not only did the Rangers beat Philadelphia for the fifth time this season and the seventh straight time overall, but they also ignited their struggling power play on Saturday. The Blueshirts notched a season-high three goals with the man advantage -- two of them by Callahan, whose second career hat trick led New York to a 5-2 road win over the Flyers. The Rangers entered the contest with the 27th-ranked power-play unit in the NHL, but their captain could sense it was going to break out sooner than later.
"Two games prior to this our power play started coming, I felt," said Callahan, who is three shy of 100 career NHL goals. "We didn't score in that game, and then last game we get one and tonight we bang in a couple; just a matter of sticking with it. In here we know we have the personnel that can execute it and do it, just a matter of going out there and feeling good. Tonight we felt it."
Marian Gaborik had a goal and three assists, Brad Richards posted a season-high three assists and Henrik Lundqvist made 31 saves as the Rangers extended their Atlantic division lead to six points over the Flyers.
Who's Hot: Ovechkin's tally against the Jets was his 23rd of the season and his third in two games. Dennis Wideman has 3 assists in his last two games and is tied for second in the NHL in points among defensemen with 38. … Lundqvist, tied for first in the League with six shutouts, is 5-1-0 with a 1.14 goals-against average, a .959 save percentage and two shutouts in his last six games.
Injury Report: Washington remains without Nicklas Backstrom (concussion), Mike Green (abdominal surgery) and Tom Poti (groin). … Fedotenko (head) did not make the trip to Philly and is questionable for Sunday's game. Defenseman Michael Sauer (concussion) is still sidelined for New York.
Stat Pack: The Caps have had 172 power-play chances this season, sixth-fewest in the NHL. … The Rangers are a stellar 21-0-2 when leading after two periods this season.
Puck Drop: The Capitals -- who haven't played since Thursday -- figure to have the early jump, as the Rangers are playing the second of back-to-back afternoons and their third game in four days. However, the Blueshirts have been outstanding when playing on consecutive days. They are 6-1-1 in the second games of back-to-back sets.