The Atlanta Thrashers have been doing an excellent job of playing the role of spoiler down the stretch. It's too late for them to hurt the Washington Capitals' Southeast Division title hopes.
After clinching their second straight division championship, the Capitals look to avoid a letdown against the surging Thrashers in the opener of a home-and-home series Sunday.
There was a wild celebration last year after Washington finished at the top of the Southeast with a win in its final regular-season game.
This season, the Capitals (47-23-8) were much more subdued after securing the division title despite losing to Buffalo 5-4 in overtime Friday night. Washington built a big early lead in the Southeast, earning the fifth division title in its history with four games to spare.
"Before the season started, we said we were going to win, and we have one goal in mind," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said, "and we aren't there yet."
Washington, trying to hold off New Jersey for second place in the Eastern Conference, plays its next two against an Atlanta team that continues to play hard even though it has been eliminated from playoff contention.
The Thrashers (34-38-6) have won four straight and five of six, including wins over the top three contenders for the last playoff spot in the East. They beat Florida 3-1 on Friday night, Buffalo 3-2 in overtime two days earlier and the New York Rangers on March 26.
"We don't have the playoffs, so April 11 is our last game of the season," Atlanta center Rich Peverley said. "I don't want to stop playing hockey, but we have to. We're just trying to make the most of it. It's too bad because we have a pretty good team going forward."
The Thrashers have been competitive against the Capitals this season, winning two of four contests. Atlanta, though, is 0-2 at Washington, allowing the Capitals to convert 41.7 percent (5-for-12) of their power-play chances.
Atlanta's penalty-kill unit ranks near the bottom of the league, stopping just 75.4 percent of its opponents' chances. Washington, meanwhile, has a chance to lead the league in power-play percentage for the first time in its history, taking advantage of 25.6 percent of its opportunities.
The Capitals are 9-for-21 (42.9 percent) with the man advantage in their last four games.
Alex Ovechkin scored on the power play versus the Sabres, raising his league-leading goal total to 55. The star winger has a seven-game point streak (six goals, nine assists), and has 45 points (23 goals, 22 assists) in 28 games versus Atlanta.
Peverley, meanwhile, had gone 10 straight games without a goal for Atlanta before scoring two in the third period against the Panthers.
The center carried the Thrashers offensively with winger Ilya Kovalchuk's five-game goal streak coming to an end. Kovalchuk has one goal and four assists in his last four games versus the Capitals after being held off the scoresheet in the previous three meetings.