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Capitals set to face tough Bruins without Ovechkin

Alex Ovechkin will be forced to watch tonight's action at game skid against the visiting Boston Bruins.

Ovechkin will miss the next three games after being suspended by the NHL for a hit Sunday against Pittsburgh's Zbynek Michalek. Washington's captain left his feet to deliver a high, hard check to the head of Pittsburgh's defenseman early in the second period of a 4-3 Penguins' overtime victory.

The 26-year-old Russian sniper was not penalized for his hit on Michalek, but Ovechkin will forfeit over $154,000 in salary and he won't be eligible to return until Feb. 4 in Montreal. The suspension, however, will not prevent Ovechkin from participating in this weekend's All-Star festivities in Ottawa. The Moscow native was named to his fifth All-Star team thanks to his 20 goals and 39 points in 47 games this season.

The Capitals, meanwhile, have lost two straight and three of their last four contests. As a result, Washington has fallen a point behind Florida for first place in the Southeast Division and is in danger of dropping three in a row for the first time since an 0-4 slide from Nov. 25-Dec. 1. The Caps are also tied with Toronto for the eighth seed in the East.

Tonight's tilt marks the first of four meetings between the Caps and Bruins this year, but Washington has not fared well in recent encounters against Boston. The Bruins have won four of the last five matchups overall and Boston had won two straight in D.C. before dropping its last test in the nation's capital on Nov. 5, 2010.

The Capitals were able to gain a point in their last game on Sunday, but Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin scored 1:31 into overtime to lift the host Penguins to the 4-3 decision. Washington netminder Michal Neuvirth allowed four goals on 27 shots in Sunday's defeat, while Ovechkin had a goal and two assists for the Caps.

The Capitals have an excellent 17-6-1 as the host this year and they had won seven straight at home until getting shut out last Tuesday by the New York Islanders.

Boston is coming off a pair of exciting games this weekend and the Bruins earned three points in those contests. Claude Julien's club fell to the visiting New York Rangers on Saturday after Marian Gaborik notched the OT winner with 3.6 seconds left, but the Bruins rebounded with Sunday's 6-5 shootout victory in Philadelphia.

Tyler Seguin scored the winner in the shootout to lift Boston to the close win in Philly. Seguin's decisive score came at the end of round two, when he forced Ilya Bryzgalov to the ice and slid a shot inside the right post. Tim Thomas then made a blocker save on Wayne Simmonds to end the contest.

"Obviously, guys who go in shootouts have different choices on what they are going to do or if they pick their move before. On [Ilya Bryzgalov], I did want to go on glove side," Seguin said of his shot choice. "I saw [David Krejci] go down and shoot there and I thought it was open. So, I just tried to make a couple more moves."

Milan Lucic, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Seguin each posted a goal and an assist for the Bruins. Thomas, winner of two of the last three Vezina Trophies, won despite allowing an atypical five goals on 38 shots.

Boston fell two points behind the Rangers for the Eastern Conference lead after Saturday's loss, but the B's forged a virtual tie for the No. 1 seed thanks to Sunday's win. The Rangers and Bruins both enter tonight with 64 points through 46 games.

The Bruins played Sunday without defenseman Andrew Ference, who will serve the second test of a three-game suspension tonight. Boston forward Nathan Horton is also questionable after sustaining a head injury on a late hit from Philadelphia's Tom Sestito.

Boston is 15-6-0 as the visiting team this season and has won three of its last four away from Beantown.

Both the Bruins and Caps are playing their final games before the All-Star break. Boston's next test is set for Tuesday, when it hosts Ottawa to open a three-game homestand. Washington will also emerge from the break next Tuesday, as it kicks off a three-game road trip with a stop in Tampa.