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Caps' offense rivaling that of '95-96 Penguins

by John Kreiser
The Washington Capitals continue to put the puck in the net at a rate not seen since the 1995-96 Pittsburgh Penguins.

With their 5-4 victory against Tampa Bay on Thursday, the Caps extended their streak of scoring three or more goals to 23 consecutive games. It's the longest streak of its kind since the 1991-92 New York Rangers had three or more in 27 consecutive games. The Caps matched the second-longest streak in franchise history Thursday; the franchise record is 25 games, set in 1984-85.

The Capitals have outscored their opponents 38-10 in the third period in their last 19 games, and have scored at least one third-period goal in 18 of those games. They're on pace to score 321 (non-shootout) goals, the most since the Penguins piled up 362 14 years ago.

West's the best -- East is East and West is West, but when it comes to inter-conference play, the West's the best -- again.

For the fifth time in as many seasons since the 2004-05 work stoppage, the Western Conference is getting the better of the East. In fact, Western teams are on the way to their best season ever against the East.

Through 224 of the 270 inter-conference games this season, Western teams are 128-74-22 against the East, giving them 55.9 percent of the 497 available points and a winning percentage of .571.

That's a big jump from last season, when the West won 141 of the 270 inter-conference games, a .522 winning percentage that was its lowest in the first four seasons after the work stoppage. The 2008-09 season was the best for the East, which used a late surge to finish 129-112-28 and earn 48.2 percent of the available points.

The imbalance in inter-conference play figures to have a big effect on the number of points needed to make the playoffs. With a little more than five weeks left in the season, it looks like no more than 87 points will be needed to grab the eighth and final playoff berth in the East -- in the first four seasons since the adoption of the shootout, the final playoff team in the East has had no fewer than 92.

An 87-point team in the West, however, figures to be going nowhere but home in April -- in fact, at the present pace, 87 points would be no better than 13th in the conference. At the current pace, a team will need 91 points to grab a playoff berth in the West, the same as each of the last two seasons.

East beaters -- Not surprisingly, the San Jose Sharks again have had their way against Eastern Conference teams this season. The Sharks are 12-4-1 against the East, improving their record since 2005 to 46-15-4, the best by any team in either conference against the other. San Jose has had one of the NHL's three best inter-conference records in every season except 2007-08, when the Sharks split 10 games.

Low five -- In contrast to the Caps, the Detroit Red Wings are having more trouble putting the puck in the net than they've had in years.

Detroit enters Friday's home game against Nashville having scored four goals or fewer in 45 consecutive games. That's the second-longest such streak in franchise history. The Wings' only longer streak without scoring five goals in a game was a 60-game stretch from December 1976 to November 1977.

The lack of big scoring nights is a big reason the Wings went 17 games without posting consecutive wins, their longest such drought since a 20-gamer in 2002-03.

Ilya who? -- Ilya Kovalchuk owns just about every offensive record in Atlanta Thrashers history, but just before the Olympic break he was traded to New Jersey in a deal that sent rookie Niclas Bergfors to the Thrashers. At the time, the deal was regarded by many as a big win for the Devils, especially since Bergfors had gone 16 games without a goal.

But the Thrashers have gotten everything they could have wanted from Bergfors, a 2005 first-round pick by the Devils. The 22-year-old (he turns 23 Sunday) had a goal in Thursday's 6-3 victory against the New York Islanders, giving him four in seven games since the deal. Not coincidentally, the Thrashers are 4-1-2 in those seven games.

Meanwhile, Kovalchuk has been good but not great for New Jersey, scoring 2 goals and adding 5 assists. The Devils enter Friday's game in Calgary with a 3-3-1 record since the trade.

A win to remember them by -- At least the Boston Bruins won't have to take the burden of a franchise-record home losing streak with them as they head out for seven in a row on the road.

The Bruins ended a 10-game home losing streak (0-7-3) Thursday when Miroslav Satan's shootout goal gave them a 3-2 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs at TD Garden. It was their first win in Boston since they beat Philadelphia, 2-1 in overtime, in the Winter Classic on Jan. 1, and their first at the Garden since a 4-0 victory against Atlanta two nights earlier.

The 10 consecutive home losses marked only the second time in the Bruins' 86 years in the NHL that they've had a single-season home winless streak hit double figures. The other was an 0-11-0 streak in 1924-25, which began with the second home game in franchise history, a 4-3 loss to the Canadiens on Dec. 8, 1924.

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