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Capitals challenge Lightning, shoot for 10th straight

by Brian Hunter
LIGHTNING (22-20-11) at CAPITALS (36-12-6)

Last 10:
Tampa Bay 5-4-1; Washington 9-1-0

Season Series:
Third of six meetings this season between Southeast Division rivals. In their most recent matchup on Jan. 12, the Lightning ended a 12-game losing streak to the Capitals as Steven Stamkos scored a pair of power-play goals and Martin St. Louis also struck with the man advantage for the game-winner in a 7-4 victory. The Capitals won 3-0 on Dec. 7 with Alex Ovechkin scoring twice and Semyon Varlamov stopping all 26 shots he faced.

Big Story:
Washington will attempt to match the franchise record by winning a 10th straight game; however, the Capitals won't have the services of Mike Green. The League's leading scorer among defensemen was suspended Saturday for three games, the result of an elbowing penalty in a win over Florida on Friday. Green later left that game in the second period after suffering an apparent knee injury in a collision with Dmitry Kulikov, leaving his status for this game uncertain even if he hadn't been suspended.

Team Scope:

Every point seems vital right now for Tampa Bay, which is one of eight teams vying for the final three playoff spots. So even though the Lightning were unable to complete the sweep of a four-game homestand when they lost 2-1 in a shootout to the Ducks on Friday night, it could still end up being key that at least they got the game into overtime. Antero Niittymaki was brilliant once again, making 31 saves.

"From the bench level I thought it was a hard-fought game," coach Rick Tocchet said. "I think most of the guys were working hard. You know Anaheim won a cup [three] years ago and knocked off the Sharks last year. They're a playoff savvy team and you know they were going to bring their 'A' game."

Capitals: The last time Washington lost was its previous game against Tampa Bay. While the Capitals' overall streak against the Lightning came to an end, they have still won five straight over them at the Verizon Center, where they play three of the final four meetings in this season's series. Right now, the Caps are getting contributions from up and down their lineup. Mike Knuble scored twice in Friday's 4-1 win over the Panthers.

"Right from our coaching staff to our players we're consistent and we've been working hard," defenseman Brian Pothier said. "We've been diligent, and it's paying off for us. We make mistakes. Tonight wasn't our best game, but we gutted it out. I think good teams find a way to win even when they don't play great."

Who's Hot:
St. Louis had the only Tampa Bay goal on Friday and has lit the lamp in three of the last four games. Niittymaki has given up just four goals in his last four starts, going 3-0-1 with a .968 save percentage.

Alexander Semin has an eight-game points streak for Washington, scoring six goals and adding nine assists. Ovechkin has recorded points in 11 of 12 games, registering eight goals and 16 assists over that span. Knuble has eight goals in as many games. Nicklas Backstrom has a goal and four assists in his last three games. Goalie Michal Neuvirth is 3-0-0 with a .963 save percentage over his last four appearances.

Injury Report:
Stephane Veilleux is day-to-day with a lower-body injury for the Lightning. … Jose Theodore is nursing a lower-body injury but should be available to at least back up Neuvirth on Sunday. Varlamov remains out for the Capitals with a groin injury, while Green will serve the first game of his suspension.

Stat Pack:
Washington leads the League by a wide margin with a 3.83 goals-per-game average, and is on pace to become the highest-scoring team since Pittsburgh in 1995-96, which featured a pair of 60-goal scorers in Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr. Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin are all averaging better than a point per game, while Green has 52 points in 52 games.
Puck Drop:
The unstoppable force in Washington's offense meets the immovable object in Niittymaki, who is likely to make his ninth consecutive start for Tampa Bay.

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