Dec. 21 vs. Tampa Bay Lightning at Capital One Arena
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, 106.7 FAN
Tampa Bay Lightning 17-12-4
Washington Capitals 25-6-5
The Caps finish a set of back-to-back games and close out their 2019-20 season's series with the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night in D.C. The game marks the second straight Saturday night in which the two former Southeast Division rivals have tangled; the Caps won a 5-2 decision over the Bolts last Saturday night in Tampa.
This weekend marks the Caps' sixth set of back-to-back games this season, and in the opener on Friday night in New Jersey, they got off to a positive start in doubling up the Devils, 6-3. Playing in his 900th game with Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom rolled up a four-point night with two goals and two assists to reach the 900-point plateau for his NHL career in the process.
Washington is now 4-1-1 in the first half of back-to-back games this season, and it has won each of its last three. The Caps are 4-0-1 on the back half, and they have won four straight of those, so they'll be seeking their third straight clean sweep of a set of back-to-backs.
Although they fell behind early in Friday's game against the Devils and although it was a 2-2 hockey game heading into the final minute of the second period, the Caps seemed to have the contest under control throughout. Caps coach Todd Reirden didn't have to over-extend any of his key players, and the whole crew should be relatively fresh heading into Saturday night's game with Tampa Bay.
"It's a huge challenge against a team that is sitting there waiting for us," says Caps coach Todd Reirden of Saturday's game. "We have had some competitive games against them already, but the first thing on our mind was that we've got three games in four days here. We talked about focusing in for four days here, and [Friday's game vs. New Jersey] was the most important one. We'll worry about [Saturday on Saturday], and worry about [Monday's game with] Boston when that comes.
"But we were able to get the two points [in New Jersey] against a hard-working team that is young and competitive. Now we get back, get some sleep and get ready for a fresh Tampa squad that's probably not that happy right now. So we've got to make sure that we're ready [Saturday]."
Video: Reirden Postgame | December 20
Friday's win over the Devils is the latest example of a good bounce back game from the Capitals in the aftermath of their relatively rare regulation losses this season. The victory followed a 3-0 loss at the hands of the Blue Jackets in Columbus on Monday, Washington's first shutout loss of the season. In only six of their first 36 games did the Caps fail to collect a point, and they now own a 5-0-1 record in the game immediately following those regulation losses. With the season's halfway mark coming up at the end of the month/year/decade, Washington has yet to go consecutive games without picking up points.
"We're never satisfied losing a game," says Backstrom, "so it's always good that we bounce back right away and get points because I feel like that's what this is all about, getting points before the playoffs start. I think we've been good like that all season, so hopefully it can continue."
Saturday night's game in the District is the Lightning's only road game in a span of 20 nights, splitting a pair of Tampa Bay homestands, a four-game stay and a three-game run. Washington supplied the opposition on the second night of the four-game homestand, downing the Lightning 5-2 last Saturday night.
The Bolts finished that homestand with a 2-1-1 record, and they come into Saturday's game on the heels of a 4-3 overtime loss to the Dallas Stars on Thursday night in the finale of that first homestand. The Lightning will head home after facing the Caps, and it will entertain Florida, Detroit and Montreal, respectively, before heading out on the road again for a New Year's Eve date with the Sabres in Buffalo.
Tampa Bay and the Caps met here for the first time this season just over three weeks ago, on Black Friday. The Caps came back from a 3-1 third-period deficit to claim a 4-3 overtime victory on Dmitry Orlov's game-winner in the extra session in that contest.
Video: Postgame | December 20
The Bolts won the Presidents' Trophy as the league's top regular season team in 2018-19, rolling up a staggering total of 128 points. But the eighth-seeded Columbus Blue Jackets unceremoniously ushered the Lightning out of the playoffs in the first round, taking Tampa Bay out in four straight games.
Thus far this season, the Lightning has underachieved somewhat, winning just over half (17) of its first 33 games. Tampa Bay has put together a pair of modest three-game winning streaks, but hasn't yet been able to generate enough traction to go on a sustained winning run. The Lightning is 5-3-1 through its first nine games of December.