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Capitals look to draw even with Flyers in points

by Adam Kimelman
CAPITALS (42-21-10) at FLYERS (44-19-8)


Last 10 --
Washington 9-1-0; Philadelphia 4-4-2

Season series --
This is the fourth and final meeting between the top two teams in the Eastern Conference standings. The first three games all have been one-goal affairs, with two decided in overtime and one in a shootout. The Capitals won the first meeting, Nov. 7 in Washington, on Mike Green's overtime goal. The Flyers won the rematch in Washington Nov. 20 on Danny Briere's shootout-deciding goal. On Jan. 18, Andrej Meszaros' overtime goal was the difference.

Big story -- Regardless of the outcome the Flyers will remain atop the conference standings, but the Caps can pull even in points with a regulation victory. They're 10-1-0 in their last 11, while the Flyers are unbeaten in regulation in their last six (4-0-2).

Team Scope:

Capitals -- While the enormity of the game is obvious, it's the bigger picture that's being focused on in Washington, which is why All-Star forward Alex Ovechkin won't play Tuesday in Philadelphia.

"He's been bothered by this nagging ailment for a couple of months," coach Bruce Boudreau told the team's website. "We just thought we'd take care of it now. His body needs a little bit of rest. We thought this was a good time to rest his body for a week to two weeks so he's fresh come April."

Ovechkin hasn't missed a game all season, but with Tuesday's game being the Caps' only contest in a six-day span, it was determined this was as good a time as any for him to sit out.

"He just needs to take some time off to get completely healed up," GM George McPhee told the team's website. He added that he believed Ovechkin would need 7-10 days out of action to heal up.

Flyers -- With games against Washington on Tuesday and Pittsburgh on Thursday, Philadelphia has a chance to open space on its closest pursuers in the race for the Eastern Conference's top spot.

"This is just what this team needs now to get us back on track in the last 11 games," defenseman Sean O'Donnell told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Philadelphia has struggled recently matching the intensity of their opposition the last few weeks, but they shouldn't have much trouble getting up for their next two games.

"They're both playing pretty good hockey," forward Jeff Carter said of the Caps and Penguins in the Inquirer. "They're right on our tails, so we're going to have to come out with our best games."

Who's hot --
In his last 20 games, Flyers forward Claude Giroux has 4 goals and 15 assists. His 23 goals this season are two shy of doubling his NHL total entering this season. … Capitals forward Mike Knuble has 4 goals and 2 assists in his last five games. His 3-point game Friday against the Devils was his first multi-point game Dec. 11.

Injury report -- Besides Ovechkin, Capitals forward Jason Arnott remains week-to-week with an undisclosed injury. Defenseman Tom Poti is out with a groin injury. Defenseman Mike Green, who's missed the last 11 games with a head injury, could return for this one. Defenseman John Erskine (illness) and forward Eric Fehr (upper body) also are questionable for Tuesday. … Flyers forward Chris Pronger will not play while he recovers from surgery to repair a broken bone in his right hand.

Stat pack -- Pronger is the Flyers' best defenseman, but Philadelphia hasn't really missed him when he's been out. The Flyers are 13-5-3 without their All-Star blueliner this season.

Puck drop --
There wasn't a whole lot of celebrating Saturday when the Flyers beat the Dallas Stars in a shootout to clinch a playoff spot.

A reporter asked coach Peter Laviolette, "Does it mean anything to clinch a playoff berth?"

"Yep. It means we're in the playoffs," Laviolette said dryly. He then added that just getting into the playoffs isn't something he's focused on.

"We've never talked about it," he said. "We've never talked about clinching a playoff berth. We've always talked about home-ice, all rounds, starting in our building -- Game 7 if it comes to that. That's why we continue to push."

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