March 30 vs. Carolina Hurricanes at Capital One Arena
Time: 7:00 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington
Radio: 106.7 FM and Capitals Radio 24/7
Carolina Hurricanes 34-32-11
Washington Capitals 46-24-7
The Capitals close out a two-game homestand and their season's series with the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night at Capital One Arena. Washington will be seeking its sixth straight victory - which would be its longest of the season - on Friday against the Canes.
Video: The Week Ahead | March 29
Ironically, it was the Hurricanes that ended Washington's first five-game winning streak of the season back on Jan. 11 when they defeated the Caps 3-1 in the District in the front end of a set of home-and-home games on back-to-back nights. A night later, the Caps stunned the Canes in Carolina, scoring twice in the final four minutes to erase what had been a 3-2 Hurricanes advantage in a 4-3 Washington win.
Brett Connolly tied it with 3:08 left, and then Jay Beagle won it for Washington with 1.3 seconds remaining in the third, taking a feed from Nicklas Backstrom and scoring the game-winner about 10 seconds after taking and winning a defensive-zone face-off.
Since splitting that home-and-home set with the Hurricanes on Jan. 11-12, the Caps have swept three home-and-home sets from three other Metropolitan Division rivals. Washington knocked off Columbus in consecutive contests on Feb. 6-9, and it downed the Islanders on successive nights on March 15-16. Most recently, the Capitals took two straight from the Rangers, winning 4-2 on Monday in New York and coming back late to take a 3-2 overtime decisions from the Blueshirts on Wednesday in Washington.
Wednesday's win was the Caps' fifth straight, but it didn't come easy. Less than 100 seconds away from a regulation loss and no standings points, the Caps got a six-on-five goal from Lars Eller with 65 seconds left to tie the game at 2-2, and then Evgeny Kuznetsov scored 38 seconds into overtime to win it for Washington.
Eller came over the boards as the sixth attacker to replace Caps goalie Braden Holtby, and seconds later, he was adding t his career high with his 18th goal of the season. Parked at the top of the paint, Eller took a pass from Nicklas Backstrom and chipped it over the right shoulder of Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist to force overtime.
"For me, I was just trying to win every battle that I could and to keep the puck alive, get it into Backy or Kuzy's hands and find my place net front," recounts Eller. "I had my stick free to shoot, so it was easy just to try to get it high."
Video: Alex Ovechkin | March 29
Wednesday's victory gives the Caps a 10-3-0 record for the month of March. In addition to the five-game winning streak, Washington has won nine of its last 10 games. The Caps have all but locked down a playoff berth, and they can clinch the Metro Division title merely by winning any two of their last five games.
As they go down the stretch and play these final five regular season games, Caps coach Barry Trotz is rotating the wingers in his bottom six, checking out and trying out various combinations. With just over a week remaining in the regular season, the Capitals still have five different possible first-round playoff opponents, and Trotz and his staff are trying to get a handle on which combinations will be most beneficial against which opponents.
"We're experimenting with a couple of things, and we're going to keep everybody involved," says Trotz. "The guys that we had in [on Wednesday], we will make a couple of changes and just keep all of the parts moving.
"A lot of it is giving us some vision in terms of what our options are, and also keeping everybody motivated, and just trying a few things as we get down the stretch. We're looking at different opponents and five different [potential playoff opponents] rosters and what may work for this team and what may work for that team. That is all going into it."
Washington's top six has been rolling along quite nicely, thank you, particularly since Evgeny Kuznetsov returned to the lineup after a three-game absence because of an upper body injury. Kuznetsov supplied the game-winner in overtime for Washington in Wednesday's win over the Rangers, and he now has six consecutive multi-point games to tie a franchise record.
The Capitals' top five scorers for the month of March are Backstrom (19 points), Kuznetsov (16), John Carlson (14), Alex Ovechkin (12) and T.J. Oshie (nine), a list that includes four of their top six forwards.
Starting for the first time in more than a week and for just the third time in Washington's last 11 games, Holtby made 37 saves on Wednesday to earn his third straight victory and 32nd of the season. Both Holtby and Philipp Grubauer are healthy now.
Video: Barry Trotz | March 29
"We're going to talk about that today, see what we're going to do," says Trotz, of how to handle the goaltending duties over the final five games. "Both of them are healthy, so we'll sort of put up a plan for the next two games, anyways."
Carolina enjoyed its best month of the season in December when it posted an 8-5-2 record, and won a season high four games in a row wrapped around the NHL's holiday break. The Canes were hanging around the outskirts of the playoff chase for most of the season, but they were never able to make an upward move in the standings.
Although the Hurricanes haven't gone more than three games without collecting a point since the calendar flipped to 2018, they haven't won more than three straight over that span, either. But their 16-19-4 record over that span has left them well south of qualifying for a playoff berth, and they will miss out on the NHL's postseason tournament for the ninth straight season, and for the 11th time in 12 seasons since the Canes claimed the Stanley Cup title in 2006.
Coming into Friday's game with the Caps, the Hurricanes have won three of their last four. Most recently, they dropped a 4-3 decision to the Devils in New Jersey on Tuesday, a loss that halted their latest three-game winning streak.
The Hurricanes have scored a combined total of 18 goals in their last four games, with none of them coming on the power play. Carolina is just 1-for-15 (6.7%) with the extra man in its last seven games, and its penalty killing outfit has struggled of late as well, succeeding on only 22 of 33 shorthanded missions (66.7%) over its last 13 games.