The Washington Capitals seem to be coming together at the right time to secure themselves a postseason berth. The Caps will try to move closer to that goal tonight by winning a third straight game when they visit the Lightning at Tampa Bay Times Forum.
It hasn't been pretty, but Washington has recorded consecutive shootout victories to move two points ahead of Buffalo for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. Both clubs have three games left in the regular season and the Capitals can make it a four-point edge over the idle Sabres tonight.
Washington also has a chance at winning a fifth straight Southeast Division title, as it enters today three points behind Florida for first place. The Panthers, who also have three games left, are idle tonight after dropping a shootout decision in Detroit on Sunday.
Before winning their last two games over Boston and Montreal, the Capitals lost an embarrassing 5-1 home decision against the Sabres on Tuesday. Washington rebounded with the 3-2 decision in Boston on Thursday and then won by the same score on Saturday against the visiting Canadiens.
Matt Hendricks scored in the first round of the shootout against Montreal. Washington goaltender Michal Neuvirth then made stops on David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty before Alexander Semin scored to seal the win for the Caps.
Mathieu Perreault and Jay Beagle each scored in regulation for Washington, while Neuvirth posted 38 saves through overtime.
"Everyone is pumped out there right now," said Washington head coach Dale Hunter. "There's a lot of excitement in our locker room and we're going to keep carrying it into the playoffs."
Washington is playing two of its final three games of the regular season on the road, where it is just 15-20-4 this season. The Caps will host Florida on Thursday in a Southeast battle before closing their schedule on the road Saturday against the New York Rangers.
The Lightning, meanwhile, have been eliminated from postseason contention, but they would still love to play spoiler tonight against their divisional rivals. After all, Tampa was officially eliminated on Saturday thanks to Washington's win over Montreal.
Tampa Bay posted an overtime victory Saturday against visiting Winnipeg, as Steven Stamkos' record-setting goal 45 seconds into the extra session lifted the Lightning to a 3-2 decision over the Jets.
The tally was the fifth overtime goal of the season for Stamkos, breaking the previous record held by five different players. Stamkos has a franchise-record 56 goals on the season and holds a comfortable lead over Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin for the league lead. Malkin is second in the NHL with 48 goals.
Ryan Malone scored twice in regulation while Sebastien Caron stopped 26-of-28 shots for the Lightning, who snapped a two-game slide.
"You have got to be amazed by our players coming out with that much enthusiasm and drive," Lightning head coach Guy Boucher said. "I think we gave the best show possible to our fans in every possible way."
Tampa Bay will play its final game of the season in front of the home crowd tonight and will finish their schedule on a three-game road trip. The Bolts are 24-14-2 as the host this year compared to a 12-21-5 road mark.
The Capitals have taken three of five from the Lightning this season, but Tampa won both of the encounters staged in Florida.