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Capitals look to gain more ground against Rangers

by Corey Masisak

CAPITALS (14-16-1) at RANGERS (15-13-2)


Last 10: Washington 5-5-0; New York 5-5-0

Season series: The Rangers have won both meetings and have held the Capitals to one goal in each of the games.

Big story: Fresh off a two-game sweep of the Winnipeg Jets, Washington can move within a point of the scuffling Rangers, who try to get back on track after a bad home loss to the Florida Panthers.

Team Scope:

Capitals: Washington was probably a loss Thursday from being unofficially eliminated from Stanley Cup Playoff contention, but blowout victories on back-to-back nights at MTS Centre in Winnipeg have put the Capitals back in the postseason discussion. Goaltender Braden Holtby was stellar both nights, and the offense roared to life with 10 goals.

With Washington in the midst of a brutal travel stretch -- 11 of 17 games away from Verizon Center in a 30-day span -- the opportunity to make a run at the top eight may be upon the Capitals. Seven of the next eight games (including this one) are against teams not in the top eight in the Eastern Conference, and six of the next seven are against the bottom clubs.

The trade deadline falls in the middle of this stretch, and what happens in the next couple of games could determine what direction general manager George McPhee decides to point his franchise for the rest of the season -- he could trade a couple of veterans, notably potential free agent Mike Ribeiro, or he could look to boslter his team's depth for a run at a playoff spot.

Rangers: New York has lost four of six games since playing the Capitals two weeks ago. Offense has been a huge problem: The Rangers have seven goals in those six games, and three came against New Jersey Devils backup goaltender Johan Hedberg.

Larry Brooks of the New York Post reported offensive help could be on the way, from across the Atlantic Ocean. Brooks reported the Rangers would like to bring 21-year-old Jesper Fast, who had 18 goals and 35 points in 47 games this season in the Swedish Elitserien, to New York for a late-season push. Fast was a sixth-round pick by New York in 2010.

Who's hot: Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin has six goals and nine points in the past six games, which coincides with when he and center Nicklas Backstrom were reunited on the team's top line.

Injury report: Capitals defensemen John Erskine (upper body), Tomas Kundratek (leg) and Tom Poti (back) could all still be out. … Rangers defenseman Marc Staal (eye) and forward Arron Asham (back) are out.

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