CAPITALS (36-28-6) at JETS (33-29-8)
TV: CSN-MA+, TSN-JETS
Last 10: Washington 7-2-1; Winnipeg 5-3-2
Season Series: Both teams have won twice this season, and each needed more than 60 minutes to claim one of those wins.
Big Story: The Jets trail the Capitals by four points for eighth place in the Eastern Conference, and this is the first of two contests remaining between the teams. It's a game the Jets have to have, preferably in regulation.
Capitals: A great day at the team's practice facility -- injured center Nicklas Backstrom skated for the third straight day -- turned scary Thursday when Alex Ovechkin collided with Mike Knuble and had to leave the session. Coach Dale Hunter said Ovechkin is "fine" and is expected to play against the Jets.
The Capitals have won four in a row for only the second time since a 7-0-0 start to the season. Washington has also won three straight games away from Verizon Center, which has been a problem all season. The Capitals were 10-18-3 on the road before this recent mini-surge.
Jets: Winnipeg did not enjoy its two-game trip to Western Canada (losses to Calgary and Vancouver) but the Jets continue to be a tough out on home ice. They are 22-10-4 at MTS Centre this season.
The Jets have won three in a row at home, and all in convincing fashion. They blasted Florida 7-0, bested Buffalo 3-1 and ripped red-hot Dallas 5-2 on Wednesday. This is one of only five home games left for the Jets. They will need to be better away from home (11-19-4 this season) if they are going to catch Washington or Florida.
Who's Hot: Ovechkin had two goals to help the Capitals rally for a victory Tuesday against the Islanders. He's got five goals and eight points in the past 10 games. … Winnipeg's Evander Kane had just one goal and three points in the first 13 games of 2012, but he's been rolling since. Kane has nine goals and 17 points in the 12 contests since his slump.
Injury Report: Backstrom hasn't played in more than two months because of a concussion, but the rest of the team is healthy -- provided that Ovechkin really is OK. Defenseman Mike Green will be back after serving a three-game suspension. … Winnipeg forward Chris Thorburn (lower body) is expected to be out three weeks after getting hurt against the Flames. Defenseman Zach Bogosian (wrist) has missed the past four games but could return against the Capitals.
Stat Pack: Capitals defenseman Dennis Wideman has an assist in five straight games, and is tied for third in the League among defensemen in points with 44. He's also an unrestricted free agent in July, and would likely be the No. 2 guy on the market behind Nashville's Ryan Suter. … Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien also has 44 points this season. He was an offensive star last season, his first with the organization, but his defensive acumen was questioned. He was on the ice for 67 goals against at even strength last season. This season he's only been on for 50 goals against at five aside, but that doesn't mean he's been better defensively. Byfuglien's goals against per 60 minutes at even strength is actually up to 2.97, which is the 14th-worst figure among defensemen in the NHL with at least 40 games played. His 2.72 GA/60 last season was only the 41st-worst, and better than teammates Tobias Enstrom and Zach Bogosian.
Puck Drop: The Capitals are now 15-13-4 since Backstrom's injury thanks to the recent four-game winning streak, but they are clearly not the same team without him. Getting him back by the start of the postseason would dramatically alter the chances of the Capitals turning what has been a disappointing, tumultuous season into a pleasant surprise at the end. Washington hasn't handled being one of the favorites in the Eastern Conference the past two seasons, but maybe the Capitals can find elusive postseason success as an underdog -- but almost certainly not without a healthy Backstrom.