The Washington Capitals and Winnipeg Jets will meet tonight for a sixth and final time this season and the encounter at the Verizon Center in D.C. could have major implications in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Washington is currently one point in front of Buffalo for the eighth and final postseason spot in the East. The Sabres are playing a road game tonight against the New York Rangers.
Meanwhile, after losing four of their last six games, the Jets have fallen five points behind Washington.
The Jets have built a 3-1-1 record against Washington in this year's season series and each of the last four encounters between the Southeast Division rivals have been decided by just one goal. Winnipeg has claimed the last two meetings, including a 3-2 shootout victory in D.C. on Feb. 9. The Jets also posted a 3-2 regulation win over the Caps last Friday in Winnipeg.
Washington played Thursday evening in Philadelphia and came away with one point after dropping a 2-1 shootout decision. Wayne Simmonds scored the winner in the fourth round of the shootout for the Flyers.
Simmonds beat Caps netminder Braden Holtby with a simple, hard wrister to start the round. Ilya Bryzgalov then ended the game by stopping Troy Brouwer with the blocker.
Alex Ovechkin tallied in regulation for the Capitals, while Holtby finished with 27 stops. Ovechkin has recorded six goals over his last five games, giving him 33 markers on the season.
"We're going to look back on it and be a little upset," Caps defenseman Karl Alzner said about getting just one point on Thursday. "We had a lot of chances to score. We should have had three [goals] in that [second] period. Hopefully it sticks with you for a little bit, at least carrying over to the next game so that when you get that chance you score because you can't let those slip away against a team like this."
Michal Neuvirth is expected to get the start in net tonight for Washington, which is still without veteran netminder Tomas Vokoun. The Czech goaltender is out with a groin injury and hasn't played since last Friday's loss in Winnipeg.
Tonight marks the start of a three-game homestand for Washington. The Caps are 23-10-3 at home this year compared to a 14-20-4 mark on the road and will also host Minnesota and Buffalo during this residency.
The Jets failed to get any points over their last two trips to the ice and Winnipeg surrendered 12 total goals over that stretch. Eight of those scores came Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, as the Penguins used a hat trick from James Neal and Evgeni Malkin's five-point night to blast the Jets, 8-4, at Consol Energy Center. Sidney Crosby also added four assists for Pittsburgh in the blowout victory.
It was a humbling loss for the Jets, who lost the opener of their three-game road trip and fell to 11-20-4 as the guest this season. Winnipeg will close the trip tomorrow night in Nashville.
Bryan Little scored twice for the Jets and Tim Stapleton and Jim Slater also had goals.
"It's demoralizing. Obviously it's a frustrating game," said Little. "We were in the game at one point and then we let it slip away and come to that. We can't put our heads down."
Ondrej Pavelec gave up five goals on 24 shots before being replaced by Chris Mason, who allowed three scores on 11 shots. Pavelec will get the start tonight and is 3-1-1 with a 1.97 goals-against average and .935 save percentage in five starts against Washington this season.
Jets forward Eric Fehr (upper body) has missed two games since getting injured last Friday against Washington and is expected to miss tonight as well. Fellow forward Nik Antropov is questionable after sitting out Tuesday's game with a lower-body issue.