Caps try to claim division title in key battle vs. Jets

The last time that the Washington Capitals got ready to face the Winnipeg Jets, they were 14th overall in the Eastern Conference and nine points back of their rivals for first place in the Southeast Division.

Things have changed for the Caps since and they can lock up their fifth Southeast Division crown in six seasons on Tuesday night with a victory over the visiting Jets in 65 minutes or less.

Looking to dig themselves out of a slow start, the Capitals played back-to- back games in Winnipeg on March 21-22 with a chance to make up some ground on the then first-place Jets. They did that with a boom, outscoring Winnipeg 10-1 in taking both games.

Overall, Washington won all three of its trips to Winnipeg this season by a 13-1 margin after losing the first meeting of the season between the clubs 4-2 in Washington on Jan. 22, part of the Caps' 2-8-1 start to the season.

The Capitals won't count on having such an easy time on Tuesday against the Jets, who have won three in a row and four of their last five in Washington.

"I would say that obviously that is a good memory for us, but that was also a few weeks ago. Teams change. I don't think they're the same team as they were that weekend," said Caps head coach Adam Oates.

"Obviously we had two very good hockey games in there. We dictated the pace in both games and didn't give them many chances. Obviously we're looking for something similar but we look for that every night."

Washington is looking to secure its sixth straight trip to the playoffs and the first four came as division champs. The Capitals can lock up the division with a regulation or overtime victory over the Jets, who trail Washington by a point in the standings but with just two games left on the schedule to the Caps' three.

The Capitals come in on a roll, with their two straight wins in Winnipeg starting a 13-2-1 run. They won for the ninth time in 10 games on Saturday, besting the Montreal Canadiens 5-1.

Alex Ovechkin and Troy Brouwer both scored twice, with Ovechkin upping his league-leading goal total to 30. It is his eighth straight campaign reaching the 30-goal mark despite the shortened season and he became one of only nine players in NHL history to score 30 goals in each of his first eight seasons.

Ovechkin has 21 goals and 10 assists over his last 20 games played, while Mike Ribeiro had three assists on Saturday to give him a goal and eight helpers over a five-game point streak.

Braden Holtby had 35 saves in the triumph for Washington, which is hosting Winnipeg, Ottawa and Boston to close the regular season.

Ovechkin has three goals and seven points versus the Jets this season, while Ribeiro has notched five points.

"It's going to be in (the playoffs) or in a huge battle for the last couple of games here," said Caps forward Troy Brouwer on Monday. "You don't want to have to worry about somebody else helping you our or doing something for you. You have your own destiny."

While the Capitals control their own fate, the Jets do have a few other paths to the playoffs as well. They sit just a point behind the New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators for the final two postseason spots in the East, though both of those clubs have a game in hand as well over the Jets, who end their regulars season at home versus Montreal on Thursday.

The Jets have used a seven-game point streak to keep pace in the standings, the longest string of consecutive games with a point since the club relocated from Atlanta. Winnipeg edged the Buffalo Sabres on Monday night to improve to 6-0-1 over its last seven.

Antti Miettinen notched the deciding goal in the third period of a 2-1 win, while Ondrej Pavelec made 24 saves. Aaron Gagnon also scored ahead of tonight's big matchup with the Capitals.

"I think it's been circled on our calendar for a long time now," said Winnipeg forward Andrew Ladd. "We wanted to put ourselves in a position where tomorrow's going to be a meaningful game, and we've done that."

The Jets, though, are unlikely to have forward Kyle Wellwood after he suffered a hand injury blocking a shot on Monday night. Winnipeg is already without center Olli Jokinen for the next 6-to-8 weeks due to a high ankle sprain, while defenseman Zach Bogosian has a reported concussion.

Still, Winnipeg is looking to make the playoffs for only the second time in franchise history and for the first time since 2007.