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Capitals shoot for season sweep of Penguins

by Brian Hunter
CAPITALS (52-15-12) at PENGUINS (45-26-7)

Last 10: Washington 6-1-3; Pittsburgh 5-3-2

Season series:
Fourth and final meeting of the regular season. After losing in seven games to Pittsburgh in last season's Eastern Conference Semifinals, Washington is on the verge of sweeping the defending Stanley Cup champion. Alex Ovechkin scored twice in a 6-3 win on Jan. 21, Mike Knuble struck on a power play 2:49 into overtime for a 5-4 win on Feb. 7 and Knuble had the decisive goal in the fourth round of the shootout in a 4-3 win on March 24.

Ovechkin has five goals in the series, including a hat trick in the Feb. 7 game. Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal have three goals apiece to lead the Penguins.

Big story:
This game means more to Pittsburgh, which is currently tied with New Jersey atop the Atlantic Division standings but would currently lose the tiebreaker because the Devils swept the season series. The Penguins will be rested, having not played since a 4-3 overtime win over the Thrashers on Saturday, while the Capitals -- who have already locked up the Presidents' Trophy and home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs -- come off a 3-2 overtime win over the Bruins on Monday.

This game will be televised nationally by Versus in the U.S. and TSN2 in Canada.

Team Scope:

Capitals: Brooks Laich scored a power-play goal 44 seconds into overtime to give Washington the victory over a Boston team in need of every point it can get. The Bruins rallied from an early deficit and took a 2-1 lead before Knuble knotted the score in the final minute of the second period. Jose Theodore stopped 28 shots, improving to 19-0-3 over his last 22 decisions.

"They don't give us lots of chances to score goals," Ovechkin said of the Bruins, whose team goals-against average of 2.34 is second in the NHL only to the Devils.

Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar returned to the lineup against Atlanta, and each contributed a power-play goal and an assist to Pittsburgh's victory. The Penguins had been shut out in their previous home game by the Lightning and were in danger of losing to the Thrashers before Gonchar's power-play goal with 1:14 left in regulation. Fellow defenseman Jordan Leopold scored his first goal since coming over in a trade with the Panthers with 2:50 elapsed in overtime.

"It was really important for me to get back," said Gonchar, who had missed four games with an illness. "We're going to have the playoffs in a short period of time, so I need some time to get things back into shape and make sure I'm ready when playoffs start. Finally I was doing good enough to come back and start playing."

Who's hot:
Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and two assists for the Capitals on Monday and needs five points over the final three games for his first career 100-point season. … Crosby has two goals and seven assists in the last five games for the Penguins.

Injury report:
Washington got forward Scott Walker back in the lineup Monday but is still awaiting the returns of defenseman John Carlson (upper body) and forwards Boyd Gordon (back) and Brendan Morrison (lower body). Defenseman Milan Jurcina (sports hernia) is out indefinitely. … Pittsburgh forward Chris Kunitz (undisclosed) is day-to-day.

Stat pack:
Ovechkin's two assists Monday gave him 104 points, two behind Henrik Sedin of Vancouver for the League lead. … Staal, who is one of two Penguins to play in all 78 games this season (Craig Adams is the other), is tied for third on the team with 21 goals, fourth with 48 points and leads with a plus-19 rating.

Puck drop:
With nothing on the line over the final week, Washington coach Bruce Boudreau will take the opportunity to give some of his key players a breather here and there. On Monday, he made defenseman Mike Green (19 goals, career-high 74 points) a healthy scratch. Rumors that Green was spotted carousing around town with the GEICO Caveman appear to be completely unfounded.

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