(SportsNetwork.com) - The Washington Capitals hope to break into the Metropolitan Division's top three seeds on Thursday when they visit the playoff-bound Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre.
The Capitals have won two straight, three of four and six of their last eight. The surge has them at 94 points on the season and one behind the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins for the last two of three playoff spots from the Metro. The Isles are in action tonight at Columbus, but the Penguins are idle after losing in regulation to Philadelphia on Wednesday. All three teams have five games left in the regular season.
Washington is currently occupying the first of two wild card spots in the Eastern Conference. It is three points ahead of Boston and six in front of the Ottawa Senators. The Bruins visit Detroit tonight, while the Senators are home against Tampa Bay.
The Capitals beat the Metro-leading New York Rangers on the road Sunday by a 5-2 count and followed that with Tuesday's 4-2 home decision over Carolina.
Alex Ovechkin scored his league-leading 50th goal of the season to lead Washington past the Hurricanes. Ovechkin scored in the first period to reach the 50-goal mark for the sixth time in his career. It was his 472nd career goal, tying Petr Bondra for the franchise lead.
"Every year, it's harder and harder," said Ovechkin. "But it's a huge accomplishment with those names up there. It's always nice. But every year, you don't know what to expect from yourself, how you are going to play."
Ovechkin has led the NHL in goals four times and is headed for his fifth Rocket Richard Trophy in 2014-15. Rick Nash of the Rangers and Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos are the closest competitors this season with 40 goals apiece.
Mike Green, Joel Ward and Brooks Laich also scored on Tuesday for the Capitals, while Braden Holtby stopped 23 shots.
The Caps are beginning a three-game road trip tonight. They have won four of their last five away games and own a 20-13-5 as the guest this season. Washington will end the swing this weekend, as it visits Ottawa on Saturday before making a stop the following day in Detroit.
Montreal has already clinched a playoff spot, but is still in a tight battle with Tampa for the Atlantic Division crown. The Canadiens have 102 points, one more than the Lightning. With five games left in the regular season, the Habs hold a game in hand over the Bolts.
However, the Canadiens have lost three of their last four games and are coming off Monday's 5-3 loss to the Lightning. Tampa swept the season series with the road victory, but the Bolts missed a chance to take over first place on Tuesday when it lost in regulation at Toronto.
Vladislav Namestnikov registered a pair of goals and one assist to help the Lightning beat the Habs on Monday. Max Pacioretty, Jeff Petry and P.K. Subban lit the lamp for the Canadiens, who dropped all five games in the season series to their Atlantic Division foes.
"I hope we play them in the playoffs, if people really think that passionately about it, because we have a lot to prove against that team," Pacioretty said.
Carey Price took the loss despite making 39 saves.
Montreal fell to 25-9-5 as the home club with the loss. It is ending a three- game homestand tonight and will have one more game at the Bell Centre before beginning the playoffs. That final home tilt of the regular season is slated for next Thursday against Detroit.
The Caps will try to avoid a season sweep at the hands of Montreal, having lost two previous meetings in 2014-15 after regulation. Washington fell 2-1 in a shootout at home on Oct. 9 before losing a 1-0 overtime decision at the Bell Centre on Jan. 31.
Montreal has claimed three of the past five overall encounters, but the Caps had won seven straight in Quebec before losing the close OT decision in late January.
Price is 5-9-3 with a 3.04 goals against average in 17 career games versus the Capitals, while Holtby is 6-4-0 with a 2.09 GAA in 10 lifetime appearances against the Canadiens.