The Washington Capitals know they'll probably need to improve on the power play if they hope to take charge in the Southeast Division.
The Capitals will be trying to move back into first place in the division on Sunday when they host the New York Rangers.
Washington (26-25-5) lost 2-1 to Carolina on Friday, falling behind the Hurricanes in the Southeast standings. The Capitals, who had won eight of 11 to grab the top spot in the division lead, had not been in first place so late in a season since March 13, 2003.
The winner of the Southeast could be the only team from the lackluster division to reach the postseason. Despite being one point removed from the division lead behind Carolina and Atlanta, the Capitals are four points behind Boston, which is seventh overall in the East and would claim the eighth and final playoff spot in the conference.
"We haven't played a game of this magnitude for a long time," Washington defenseman Mike Green said. "We understand ... how important these games are. Next time we're in this situation, we'll be ready."
A stronger power play would certainly help Washington's chances. The Capitals have not scored with the man advantage in their last six games, going 0-for-18 in that span.
Washington coach Bruce Boudreau made sure to pay attention to the power play in practice on Saturday after his team went 0-for-7 against the Hurricanes, owners of the worst penalty kill percentage in the league.
"0-for-7 on the power play defines what this game is about," Boudreau said. "You have to make teams pay if they're going to take that many penalties against us. It's been a recurring problem the last few games."
The Rangers (28-24-6) have allowed four power-play goals in their last four games, but held Philadelphia, which came in with the best power-play percentage in the league, scoreless on five man-advantage chances in Saturday's 2-0 win. Meanwhile, New York's power-play unit scored both goals on four chances, and has recorded a man-advantage goal in eight straight road games.
"Specialty teams are huge this time of year," Scott Gomez, who had one of Saturday's goals, told the Rangers' official team Web site. "The penalty kill was great, though we still have to be better at staying out of the box. And we're starting to come through a little bit on the power play."
The Rangers bounced back from consecutive home losses and won their fourth straight on the road.
Backup goalie Steve Valiquette made 31 saves in his second career shutout - both of which have come this season against the Flyers. Valiquette, who extended his shutout streak to 122 minutes, 30 seconds, wouldn't say whether he would make his first-ever start against the Capitals.
No. 1 goalie Henrik Lundqvist is 7-2-1 with a 2.52 goals-against average in 10 career starts against the Capitals, including 4-0-1 with a 1.78 GAA in his last five. Lundqvist stopped 31 shots in a 2-0 win over Washington at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 1 - his third of seven shutouts this season.
Whoever is in goal will likely have his hands full against Washington's Alexander Ovechkin, who leads the league with 46 goals and 73 points. Ovechkin did not record a point against the Hurricanes, after totaling seven goals and an assist in his previous four games.
"We've got to have this one," Gomez said.