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Closer To You – We’re already into the final week of the 2023-24 NHL regular season; a week from today, the Stanley Cup Playoffs will get underway. Before the playoffs can start though, the 16 postseason participants must be identified, and that’s still a work in progress.

Out in the Western Conference, the eight playoff teams have clinched their berths and the last few games amounts to jockeying for position, home ice, match-ups, and that sort of thing. In the Eastern Conference, the battle for berths still rages. Five playing days remain in the season for Eastern clubs – only four days for the Capitals – and teams in the hunt have either two or three games remaining.

On this sunny Saturday in D.C., the Caps woke up in a three-way tie for ninth place in the Eastern Conference standings, one point behind Pittsburgh (86 points), which currently holds the coveted second wild card slot still being pursued by the Caps, Detroit and Philadelphia (85 points each). While Pittsburgh, Washington and Detroit each have three games remaining, Philadelphia only has two. The Caps are currently the League’s official ninth-place team in the East, via tiebreakers over both Detroit and Philadelphia.

Boston is at Pittsburgh tonight, Detroit is at Toronto, and Philadelphia hosts New Jersey. Washington’s “tragic number” is five; any combination of points gained by Pittsburgh and not gained by Washington that add up to five will eliminate the Caps from contention. They do not control their playoff destiny at the moment, but they could by the end of the night if they defeat Tampa Bay at Capital One Arena and the Pens suffer a regulation loss to Boston.

Must Try Easier – The Caps come into Saturday’s game with just one win in their previous eight games (1-5-2), and they’ve not been able to score more than two goals in any of those eight games, leaving them one game shy of the dubious franchise record for most consecutive games with two or fewer goals scored. It first happened midway through the Caps’ inaugural season and has occurred three more times since, most recently just over two decades ago, in the early stages of the 2003-04 season.

Although they permitted just 17 shots on net to the Sabres in Thursday’s 4-2 loss at Buffalo, the Caps have been outshot by an average of 33-23 during their last eight games. They’ve spent an inordinate amount of time defending in their end, and an inordinate amount of their own offensive zone forays have been of the none-and-done or one-and-done varieties. With their season hanging in the balance, they’re trying to reverse those trends.

“That was one of the areas of the game that we knew we need to do a better job, is defending [Alex] Tuch, [Tage] Thompson, and [J.J.] Peterka, and I thought we checked that box; we did a really good job,” says Caps’ coach Spencer Carbery of the Buffalo game. “And I think that led to a lot of positive shifts for us offensively, conversely, and making them have to defend. We're going to need to replicate that.

“And then the other part that we failed in, was that now you’ve got to make good on some of that stuff. If you're defending that line real well, you're limiting what Tage Thompson gets 5-on-5; you're limiting what Brayden Point gets 5-on-5. We've got to now be able to turn that into some production there, which I thought we turned it into some good things in the first and third period from an [offensive] zone, from a shot delivery, from a chance generation [standpoint], and now we’ve got to finish the job.”

Finishing the job involves scoring more than two goals, because the Caps will almost certainly need more than two to take down Tampa Bay, which is on a heater as it hits town. The Lightning is 11-2-2 in its last 15 games, and the Bolts have averaged 4.27 goals per game over that stretch. The Caps simply can’t spend the evening in their end of the ice defending against the likes of Point, Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and the rest of the Lightning’s formidable group of offensive weapons.

Spending too much time in the defensive zone has been a problem for the Caps during this last mediocre stretch of eight games, and it’s imperative that they flip the script tonight against Tampa Bay.

“You saw it [on April 5] in Carolina,” says Caps’ defenseman Nick Jensen. “Anytime we’d get close to the red line, we’d dump it in. But then we’d change, and they’d come back in. And they’d do the same thing, and they were doing it to us all night.

“It’s hard to flip the script on that. It is really hard when you’re spending all your energy in the [defensive] zone; it’s hard for the forwards to do all that defending, because they work hard in the [defensive] zone, and then spend energy trying to forecheck. And we need that forecheck mentality so we can generate [offensive] zone pressure.

“We have to have that mentality of not having to always make a pretty play. I know we can, and I know guys still do, but we don’t have to do it every time. We know firsthand that it’s exhausting when you constantly have to break the puck out; it’s hard to constantly have to defend. You want to play offense, but you’re too tired. That’s something we’ve got to get back to. We’ve had it in the past, and we’ve got to find it again.”

In The Nets – Charlie Lindgren gets the net for the Capitals tonight. In Washington’s last 40 games – dating back to Jan. 13 – Lindgren has played more games, faced more shots and had more minutes in the Washington crease than he had all of last season. In his last 17 appearances, Lindgren is 9-6-2 with a pair of shutouts, a 2.65 GAA and a .917 save pct.

Lifetime against the Lightning, Lindgren is 1-0-1 with a 1.78 GAA and a .935 save pct. in three appearances (two starts).

For the Lightning, we’re expecting to see veteran Vezina candidate Andrei Vasilevskiy in net. Despite missing the first month and a half of the season because of injury, Vasilevskiy has recorded his seventh consecutive season with 30 or more victories. Vasilevskiy notched win No. 30 in his most recent start, a 5-2 home ice victory over Columbus this past Tuesday night.

Lifetime against Washington, Vasilevskiy is 9-9-1 with a 3.23 GAA and a .901 save pct. in 19 appearances, all starts.

All Lined Up – Here’s how the Caps and Lightning might look when they take the ice late Saturday afternoon in Washington:



8-Ovechkin, 17-Strome, 43-Wilson

21-Protas, 24-McMichael, 77-Oshie

67-Pacioretty, 29-Lapierre, 15-Milano

47-Malenstyn, 26-Dowd, 96-Aubé-Kubel


42-Fehervary, 74-Carlson

57-van Riemsdyk, 3-Jensen

27-Alexeyev, 2-Iorio





19-Backstrom (lower body)

25-Bear (NHL/NHLPA Player Assistance Program)

38-Sandin (upper body)







10-Duclair, 21-Point, 86-Kucherov

38-Hagel, 71-Cirelli, 91-Stamkos

23-Eyssimont, 20-Paul, 41-Chaffee

73-Sheary, 11-Glendening, 84-Jeannot


77-Hedman, 43-Raddysh

48-Perbix, 81-Cernak

68-Lilleberg, 24-Dumba





7-Fleury (upper body)

31-Johansson (lower body)

64-Motte (lower body)

98-Sergachev (fractured tibia, fibula)


44-de Haan