April 4 vs. Montreal Canadiens at Capital One Arena
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, FAN 106.7
Montreal Canadiens 43-29-8
Washington Capitals 47-25-8
Washington opens up a season-ending two-game homestand on Thursday night when it hosts the Montreal Canadiens for the only time this season. The Caps and Habs met twice in Montreal in November, but have not seen one another since. Thursday's game has playoff implications for both teams.
By virtue of Pittsburgh's loss to the Red Wings in Detroit on Tuesday night, the Capitals are now assured of finishing in one of the top two spots in the Metropolitan Division standings. The Caps own a three-point lead over the second-place New York Islanders in the Metro standings, and they wind up the season and the homestand with a Saturday night visit from the Isles.
The Caps would prefer to render that game meaningless by clinching the division title with a win over the Canadiens on Thursday, but Montreal is still clinging to its own postseason hopes. With two games remaining, the Habs are tied with Columbus for the last available playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, but the Blue Jackets hold the tiebreaker with 44 regulation/overtime wins (ROW) this season, while the Canadiens have 41.
Montreal could amass as many as 98 points by winning its last two games, but it would still need help to reach the playoffs. No team in NHL history has ever missed the postseason with as many as 98 points; the Canadiens could become the first team with that dubious distinction.
Montreal has played two straight strong games, defeating the Jets in Winnipeg on Saturday and taking down Tampa Bay in Quebec on Monday. After facing the Caps on Thursday, the Habs finish the season with a Saturday night home game against their fiercest rival, the Toronto Maple Leafs.
At any rate, the Caps are fully aware that the Canadiens will be a desperate team on Thursday night in the District, and they'll need to find a way to match that desperation if they want to nail down the division before Saturday's finale, perhaps giving themselves the opportunity to rest a couple of regulars. Washington just finished up a 2-1-0 road trip, clinching a playoff berth with a win in Carolina and making a statement with a victory over the league-leading Lightning, only to turn in a lethargic first 40 minutes in a 5-3 loss to the Panthers in Florida on Monday.
Video: Todd Reirden | April 3
"We understand that it's a very desperate team that needs that game," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "So that will be a great test for us back at home here in these final two games to serve as a good tune-up. With us, the importance of also where things are at division-wise and the importance that our team also needs to improve.
"That game against Florida was not good enough. The one against Tampa was headed in the right direction, and we need to be closer to the one against Tampa."
The Caps took Tuesday off before reconvening for a Wednesday practice session at MedStar Iceplex, and they'll be looking to deliver a strong response after Monday's lackluster outing in Florida. The Caps haven't lost consecutive games in regulation since before the All-Star break; they dropped four in a row in regulation from Jan. 14-20. Since the break, the Caps are 20-8-2, the fourth best record in the league during that stretch.
"It always comes down to how we are playing," says Caps defenseman John Carlson. "The result is great when it can be, but it doesn't always work like that. I just feel like there was a bad taste in our mouth from how we came out and started that game [against Florida], and what we led ourselves into. I would expect us to want to sharpen that and clinch the division."
On Tuesday, the Caps also announced that defenseman Michal Kempny underwent successful surgery to repair a torn left hamstring muscle, an injury that he suffered in a March 20 game with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He is expected to miss 4-6 months, meaning he will be lost to the team for the entirety of the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs, and his rehab could stretch into training camp for the 2019-20 season.
"It's very disappointing," says Reirden. "Based upon what he had done last year, the impact he had on our team, how we wanted to play, it was exciting to watch him grow last year and the significance he had playing in that top four role with John. Obviously the results were great together, and then this year he just took another step.
"It's just really exciting to watch a player that's maybe not 21 or 22 continue to improve and get better when you have the proper plan in place for him. He will be missed, so that was disappointing news. Glad to hear everything went well with the surgery and he should be good to go for next year."