Caps, Devils fight for playoff relevancy

( - A pair of teams struggling to stay relevant in the postseason race square off on Friday night, when the Washington Capitals take on the New Jersey Devils.

Both the Capitals and Devils have six games remaining in the regular season as they chase the second and final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, currently held by the Columbus Blue Jackets and their 85 points.

Washington is four points back of that spot, but is well behind in the tiebreaker of non-shootout victories, while New Jersey is a point behind the Capitals in the standings.

The Caps are looking to shake off a discouraging effort on Tuesday, when they were blanked 5-0 by the Dallas Stars. Washington trailed by just a goal after the opening period, but seemed to get deflated after yielding a pair of goals 34 seconds apart at the midway point of the second period.

Jaroslav Halak gave up three goals on 23 shots in just under 30 minutes before he was pulled in a favor of Braden Holtby, who allowed two tallies on 13 shots.

"(The Stars) are a really fast team, and they got a lot of pressure on us," said Capitals forward Eric Fehr. "We didn't react well to it. We turned over too many pucks, we didn't make the easy plays -- the 10-foot plays -- we were looking for long passes and they hemmed us in our zone pretty good.

"We talk about it in the room that we want to keep things simple and just make sure that we get it out of the zone, make the tag-up and re-attack but tonight we didn't do it very often."

The Capitals lost their fourth game in a row, but it did mark just the second time in their past nine games that they failed to earn a point (4-2-3). That has helped them stay in the playoff race despite the winless streak.

Alex Ovechkin, who leads the NHL with 48 goals, has gone 16 straight contests without scoring a goal at even strength. He does have seven power-play tallies in that span, but also has a league-worst minus-36 rating.

Washington begins a four-game road trip tonight and is set to visit the New York Islanders on Saturday, so it is unknown how coach Adam Oates will use his goaltenders.

Halak is 3-3-1 with a 2.63 goals against average versus the Devils, while Holtby has a mark of 2-2-1 and a 2.82 GAA lifetime against them.

The Devils will try to finish this game off in at most 65 minutes as they continue to struggle in the shootout format. New Jersey is 2-0-3 in its last five games, with all three setbacks coming in the tiebreaker phase.

New Jersey has lost all 11 shootouts it has been in this season and an NHL- record 15 in a row dating back to last season. That includes a 3-2 shootout setback to the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday.

"It is what it is, I don't have any comments on the shootout because we've beat that to death," said New Jersey head coach Peter DeBoer.

The Devils went into Tuesday's tiebreaker having scored just one goal on 30 shootout attempts this season and got tallies from Jacob Josefson and Jaromir Jagr in the breakaway session. However, both of those goals came after tallies by the Sabres and Ville Leino netted Buffalo's third shootout goal of the game in the ninth round.

Leino used a heavy wrister to Cory Schneider and Nathan Lieuwen made a right pad save on Mike Sislo's backhand for the win.

Dainius Zubrus and Tuomo Ruutu scored in regulation for the Devils, while Schneider had 25 saves.

Set to visit the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday, Schneider gets the start tonight and is 1-1-0 with a 1.01 GAA in two previous meetings with the Capitals.

The Devils have won seven of their last nine meetings with the Caps while also taking three straight and six of the last eight encounters at home.