March 29 vs. Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center
Time: 10:00 p.m.
Radio: 104.7 FM and Capitals Radio 24/7
Washington Capitals 50-17-8
Colorado Avalanche 20-52-3
Washington's season-long five-game road trip continues on Wednesday in Denver when the Caps take on the Avalanche at Pepsi Center. The Capitals will also be finishing off a set of back-to-back games; the started the trip on Tuesday night with a thrilling 5-4 overtime win over the Wild in Minnesota on Tuesday night.
T.J. Oshie's second goal of the game came at 1:52 of overtime, enabling the Caps to prevail in a game that was ripe with emotion and a playoff feel. Oshie's two tallies were sandwiched around the 17th hat trick of Alex Ovechkin's career, and all three of the Caps' captain's goals were scored on the power play.
All of that offensive output was needed to make a winner of goaltender Braden Holtby, who picked up his fifth straight win and his 40th of the season. Holtby joins Martin Brodeur and Evgeni Nabokov as one of only three goaltenders in NHL history to reel off three straight seasons of 40 or more victories.
Most importantly from a Washington standpoint, Tuesday's triumph over the Wild enabled the Caps to maintain their three-point cushion over second-place Columbus in the Metropolitan Division standings. The Jackets earned a home ice win over Buffalo on Tuesday, and Washington stops in Ohio's capital city for a Saturday showdown with the Jackets in the penultimate game of the current trip.
Tuesday's win also extended Washington's winning streak to five. The Capitals are 6-0-1 in their last seven games.
Prior to the win over the Wild, Caps coach Barry Trotz talked about the difficulty of starting the team's longest road trip of the season with a set of back-to-back games.
"You've got to just be in the moment," says Trotz. "The moment is we've got a game against the Minnesota Wild. We're going to get on a plane and we're going to play [Wednesday] against Colorado. And every point matters, so let's just have a shift-to-shift focus and a game-to-game focus and to compete at a real high level."
The Caps did as much against a desperate Minnesota team that has fallen on hard times this month. The Wild dropped to 3-10-2 in March after Tuesday's overtime loss to the Capitals.
"The importance of the games - especially at this time of year with where we are and what we want to do - I don't think I have to say a whole heck of a lot," says Trotz. "Colorado probably hasn't had the year that they wanted or predicted, but they're going to be dangerous. Every team on this trip is going to be dangerous, and they're going to need points.
"And then we've got to go to the other side of the country and play Columbus and Toronto, and those points are very significant. But we've got to take care of business in the moment and then worry about later on in the trip as we go along."
Although the Capitals never trailed in Tuesday's game, the Wild was able to come back twice to tie the score, including a last-minute Eric Staal goal that made it a 4-4 game, sending the contest into overtime. The Caps weren't able to generate much at five-on-five, managing only three shots on net at even strength over the final 40 minutes of regulation.
But Ovechkin's power play prowess was on display as he recorded his second hat trick in the Capitals' last two trips to Xcel Energy Center, and Holtby was excellent when it mattered, making a handful of difficult and timely stops to secure the win.
Marcus Johansson notched four assists - a single-game career high - and he reached the 50-point barrier for the first time in his NHL career. Nicklas Backstrom had three assists in a game for the fifth time this season and the third time this month. Two of those three-assist games in March have come at the Wild's expense.
"It was a tough and tight game, and it was really fun to play in," says Johansson. "There was a lot of emotion out there, and it felt good to get that win."
Now, the Caps move on to Denver, where they'll face the struggling Avalanche at altitude and on short rest. Colorado bears the league's worst record, and the Avalanche is currently in the midst of a six-game slide (0-6-0), the sixth losing streak of at least five games in duration for Colorado this season.
The Avs got off to reasonably good start, going 9-9-0 in their first 18 games of the season. But that win total represents nearly half of Colorado's total for the entire campaign; the Avalanche has won only 11 of its 57 games since (11-43-3).
Setting aside expansion teams in the first four years of their existence, Colorado's current point total of 43 is the second-worst of any NHL team in a season of 80 or more games over the last three decades. Only the 1989-90 Quebec Nordiques (12-61-7 for 31 points) finished with fewer points than the '16-17 Avalanche, which still has seven games remaining with which to improve its lot.
And don't forget, the Avalanche began its NHL life in Quebec as the Nordiques, so we're talking about the same franchise here.
The Caps are facing the Avalanche for the first time since Oct. 18 when the two teams met in Washington. With Philipp Grubauer in goal that night, the Caps forged a 3-0 win over the Avs, handing them their first loss of the young season after Colorado got off to a 2-0-0 start under first-year coach Jared Bednar.
That whitewash was the first of Grubauer's career, and his teammates helped immensely by outshooting the Avalanche 40-18 in that game.