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Capitals try to extend Southeast lead vs. Wild

by Brian Hunter /

WILD (7-10-1) at CAPITALS (11-3-4)

Last 10 -- Minnesota 5-4-1; Washington 7-1-2

Season series --
It's the only meeting between the teams this season. In last year's matchup at the Xcel Energy Center, the Wild raced out to a 4-0 lead in the third period before the Capitals scored the next three goals, only to fall short, 4-3. Cal Clutterbuck scored twice for Minnesota. The final goal for Washington was a power-play goal scored by Nicklas Backstrom against … Niklas Backstrom.

Big story -- It's not yet Thanksgiving in the nation's capital and the Capitals stand poised to run away with the Southeast Division unless something changes soon. And considering that not even the absence of Alex Ovechkin has stalled their engines, it's hard to figure what might. Washington even survived a shaky goaltending effort from Jose Theodore on Wednesday and beat the Islanders in a shootout behind the relief effort of young Semyon Varlamov.

Team Scope:

Wild --
What would have been a season-high third straight win was within Minnesota's grasp on Thursday night, as the Wild held a two-goal lead in Tampa Bay heading to the third period. But the Lightning scored twice to force overtime -- including the tying goal from Ryan Malone with the goalie pulled and 14.7 seconds remaining -- and eventually won in a shootout.

"They're all disappointed," Minnesota coach Todd Richards said. "That's an emotion you want from them, that we didn't get win. You just tell them that we deserved a better fate."

Capitals --
It was a wild night at the Verizon Center on Wednesday as Alexander Semin got Washington on the board just eight seconds into the game, the Capitals still managed to fall behind 3-1 after the first seven minutes, they rallied to take a 4-3 lead, gave up the game-tying, power-play goal late in the third and then finally pulled out the victory on a Chris Clark goal in the 11th round of a shootout. Phew! It improved the Caps to 3-1 since Ovechkin came out of the lineup with an upper-body injury.

"Alex is the best player in the league, and he's going to get the ice time that he deserves," Clark said. "But if he goes down, there's a lot of ice time to share. So I think the guys are definitely putting the effort in and showing that they can do it when you give them a chance."

Who's hot --
Minnesota captain Mikko Koivu has two goals and five points in his last three games, while veteran forward Owen Nolan has goals in consecutive games.

The return of Tomas Fleischmann for Washington has helped make up for Ovechkin's loss -- after going scoreless in his first game of the season, Fleischmann has six goals in as many games and eight points. Backstrom has four assists in his last three games and Semin scored twice against the Islanders.

Injury report -- Forwards Petr Sykora and Pierre-Marc Bouchard are out for the Wild with concussions.

Ovechkin is hoping to return by early next week, while the Capitals also hope to see Jeff Schultz (lower-body injury) and Boyd Gordon (back) return to the lineup in the near future.

Stat pack --
Only five shootouts have gone more rounds than the one in Wednesday's Capitals-Islanders game. The longest one also involved Washington, which lost to the New York Rangers on Nov. 26, 2005. Marek Malik's goal in the 15th round of the penalty-shot tiebreaker gave the Rangers a 3-2 victory.

Puck drop -- Minnesota will be trying to bounce back from a very difficult loss while playing in a building that has been especially unkind to visitors since Bruce Boudreau took over behind the Washington bench. The Wild do own a road win over defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh, however, so don't count them out.

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