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NHL Stadium Series

Stadium Series game will have special meaning for Capitals, Maple Leafs

Military personnel, Olympic champions will be honored, plus important points at stake

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- The venue, the location, the more than 500 midshipmen in the stands wearing their service dress uniforms and the pregame pomp and circumstance planned should separate the 2018 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game from the previous 24 regular-season outdoor games the League has held.

That won't be lost on the players and coaches from the Washington Capitals and Toronto Maple Leafs when they play at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SNE, SNO, SNP, TVAS, NHL.TV).

"If you're a North American, this one is more special because of the men and women that look after you and give you all the privileges you have in your life by keeping you safe and living in a democracy," said Toronto coach Mike Babcock, who has dual Canada-United States citizenship. "To me, it's a special, special thing."

 

[RELATED: Complete 2018 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series coverage]

 

And it should be a special evening on the campus of the U.S. Naval Academy, the first service academy to host an NHL game.

There will be recognitions of Navy personnel in the U.S. and Canada, flags unfurled across the ice during the anthems, performances by various military musical ensembles, and gold medal winners from the U.S. Olympic women's hockey team and the U.S. Olympic men's curling team.

It'll be picturesque, powerful and patriotic.

But once the puck drops, it will be a game between two teams that look bound for the Stanley Cup Playoffs playing a meaningful game that can serve as a springboard into their final push to the postseason.

"You can look at it that way," Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly said. "This game comes at a good time for us. It's a good opportunity to get our families here, a bit of a tension-breaker, and after this we make the final push and we get into playoff mode."

Toronto enters the Stadium Series game coming off back-to-back one-goal losses in Florida. They lost 4-3 in a shootout to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday and 3-2 in overtime to the Florida Panthers on Tuesday.

Video: The crew discuss the upcoming Stadium Series game

The Maple Leafs, though, are on a six-game point streak (4-0-2) and they're 14-3-2 since Jan. 20. They are third in the Atlantic Division with 85 points, one behind the second-place Boston Bruins and seven behind the first-place Lightning.

In addition to playing Washington outdoors, Toronto has six games left against teams that would be in the playoffs if the postseason started today (Lightning, Pittsburgh Penguins, Dallas Stars, Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets and New Jersey Devils).

"When you look at it, we may have an idea of what the playoffs may look like," Rielly said. "But as players we want to win every game, we want to get as many points as we can and be as high up in the standings as we can.

"The team that gets hot at the right time can be tough to stop no matter who you are and who you're playing. It's important to carry momentum and be sure you're playing well come playoff time."

The Capitals are in first place in the Metropolitan Division with 79 points, one more than the Philadelphia Flyers, who play at the Lightning on Saturday before the Stadium Series game. They are three points ahead of the third-place Pittsburgh Penguins.

It's a far different position for the Capitals considering where they were March 3 in the previous two seasons. They had five more points than any other team in the League and seven more than the closest Metropolitan Division team last season. They had a 13-point lead for the Presidents' Trophy and 18 more points than any other team in their division in 2015-16.

"Honestly, you lose a little bit of an edge when there's not backside pressure," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "We're battling for position. There are lots of games left, but one day we're in first and the next day we're in third in our division. I think it probably hardens you a little bit and prepares you for the playoffs probably better than being 12, 13 points ahead or whatever we were at certain times.

Video: Jamison Coyle gives his update on the Stadium Series

"There's nothing that creates urgency like urgency. You've got to have the pressure of someone breathing down your neck a little bit. So I think it will be a benefit rather than a negative."

It's also a benefit that Washington and Toronto are playing what mildly constitutes a rivalry game, which goes back to their tightly contested six-game series in the Eastern Conference First Round last season, won by the Capitals.

The Capitals and Maple Leafs split their first two games this season, with Toronto winning 2-0 at Capital One Arena on Oct. 17 and the Capitals getting the Maple Leafs back with a 4-2 win at Air Canada Centre on Nov. 25.

A little animosity in the third and final regular-season game between the teams could make for an intriguing night inside the glass.

"That series [last season] was electric," Capitals forward Tom Wilson said. "It's built some rivalry, some kind of hatred between the two teams. There's definitely going to be that.

"It will be fun to get outside and take it to the big stage. The two points are really all that matters. It's a big game." 

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