April 4 vs. Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Radio: 104.7 FM and Capitals Radio 24/7
Washington Capitals 52-18-8
Toronto Maple Leafs 39-24-15
Washington finally concludes its longest road trip of the season and its longest in more than six years on Tuesday night in Toronto when it faces the Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre. The Capitals have won three of the first four games of their five-game journey, ensuring themselves of a winning trip regardless of the outcome of Tuesday's tilt in Toronto.
The Capitals' lone misstep on the trip to date was a 6-3 loss to the Coyotes in Arizona on Saturday night. But they followed that up with a strong performance in the most important game of the season to date, a Sunday matchup with the Blue Jackets in Columbus. After taking a 3-0 second-period lead in Columbus, the Caps held on for a 3-2 victory, a win that solidified Washington's hold on the top perches in the Metropolitan, Eastern Conference and NHL standings.
The victory is Washington's seventh in its last eight games, and the Caps are now 8-1-1 in their last 10 contests, with four games remaining in the 2016-17 regular season.
Sunday's game in Columbus featured a lot of emotion and tempers flared repeatedly after whistles. Both teams were able to combine for more scoring chances and as many goals as in any of the previous four meetings between the two Metro rivals.
"I think both teams did a pretty good job of getting the puck deep," says Caps right wing T.J. Oshie, "whether that was through passing the puck or through chipping. [The Jackets] were throwing everything to the net; everything they got below the goal line, they were just throwing it there hoping to get a bounce or to get a guy loose. We knew that going in, and I thought we handled it pretty well.
"I thought we played really well [Sunday night]. It was a playoff atmosphere, but I thought we played really well."
Columbus had two cracks at toppling the Capitals over a span of 11 nights, and it failed both times. The Blue Jackets earned one of a possible four points in the two meetings, and they now face the likelihood of a first-round playoff matchup against the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
Meanwhile, Sunday's win leaves Washington with a five-point lead over second-place Pittsburgh for the Metro title, and the Caps can actually clinch the division with a victory on Tuesday in Toronto coupled with a Columbus win over Pittsburgh on the same night.
Tuesday's game in Toronto is also the start of a set of back-to-back games for Washington, which will return to the District immediately facing the Leafs. The New York Rangers will already be in Washington, awaiting the Caps' return from their long trip. The Caps face the Blueshirts at Verizon Center on Wednesday in Washington's final game this season against a Metro Division opponent.
After scuffling at times against divisional opponents early in the season, the Capitals have excelled in that regard of late. With Sunday's win over the Jackets, the Caps have won six straight divisional games and have earned at least a point in 15 of their last 17 (13-2-2) against Metro rivals.
Beyond that set of back-to-back contests, the Caps have one last set of games on consecutive nights to close out the season this weekend. They travel to Boston for the only time in 2016-17 to face the Bruins in a Saturday matinee, then return home to close out the regular season against Florida on Sunday.
It's worth noting that over the final four games remaining this season, the Capitals will face two teams - Toronto and Boston - they could end up facing in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Returning from a successful three-game road trip, Toronto comes into Tuesday's game hot. Like the Capitals, the Maple Leafs have won seven of their last eight and are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games after downing the Sabres in Buffalo by a 4-2 score on Monday night.
Toronto's rare win in Buffalo finished off a three-game road trip in which the Leafs ran the table, taking victories in Nashville and Detroit before finishing the run in Western New York.
Maple Leafs rookie sensation Auston Matthews scored his 39th goal of the season in Monday's win, surpassing Neal Broten for the all-time single-season NHL record for most goals by an American-born rookie. Broten netted 38 goals for the Minnesota North Stars in 1981-82.
The goal was also Matthews' 67th point of the season, establishing a new Toronto franchise standard for most points by a rookie in a season. Peter Ihnacak had 66 points as a freshman with the 1982-83 Maple Leafs.
With four games remaining in the 2016-17 season, the Leafs are on the verge of clinching their first Stanley Cup playoff berth in four springs and just their second in the last dozen seasons. Toronto finishes off the remainder of its season at Air Canada Centre, hosting a four-game homestand that kicks off with Washington's visit on Tuesday night. Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and Columbus will follow the Capitals into town.