Weekly primer: Caps geared up for playoff run

Weekly primer: Caps geared up for playoff run
April 2, 2013, 4:30 pm
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Having just completed a 9-6-1 month of March, the Capitals now turn their attention to the stretch run of the regular-season and a 13-game slate in April.

The Capitals begin the final month of the regular-season with four games against teams that are currently outside of an Eastern Conference playoff position.

Below is a preview of the week ahead in which the Capitals play four games in six nights. All numbers are through Monday night’s games.

TUESDAY, APRIL 2 @ CAROLINA HURRICANES (16-16-2; 10 TH PLACE EASTERN CONFERENCE)

The Hurricanes were atop the Southeast Division in mid-March and had a ten point cushion over the Capitals following a 4-0 win at Verizon Center on March 12.

The teams met two nights later in Raleigh, NC, and the Hurricanes’ season has not been the same since. The Hurricanes watched the Capitals rally from two-goals down and win 3-2 in regulation on March 14, beginning a stretch during which Carolina has lost 8-of-9 overall.

Carolina and Washington are now tied for second place in the Southeast Division, four points behind the division-leading Winnipeg Jets (the Caps have two games in-hand on Winnipeg; the Hurricanes have three games in-hand).

The Hurricanes remain without No.1 goalie Cam Ward who is out indefinitely with a torn MCL.

This marks Alexander Semin’s first game against his former club since signing a five-year $35 million extension to remain with the Hurricanes. Semin had 10 goals and 34 points in 34 games this season.

THURSDAY, APRIL 4 VS. NEW YORK ISLANDERS (17-16-3; 9TH PLACE EASTERN CONFERENCE)

When the Capitals and Islanders meet Thursday at Verizon Center, the Islanders will be seeking their first season-series sweep of the Caps since the 1980-81 season.

The Capitals are 0-2-0 against the Islanders this season having fallen 5-2 on Long Island on March 9 and 3-2 in D.C. on March 26.

John Tavares has three goals (including two game-winning-goals) against the Capitals this season and ranks second over in the NHL with 22 goals on the season (through Monday).

Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov (17-11-3) has started six straight games for New York and 16-of-17 overall and has a 12-1-2 lifetime record in 15 career games against the Capitals.

SATURDAY, APRIL 6 @ FLORIDA PANTHERS (11-19-6; 15TH PLACE EASTERN CONFERENCE)

The Capitals and Panthers meet for the final time as Southeast Division rivals on Saturday in Sunrise, FLA, where the Caps have the chance to complete a four-game season series sweep.

Washington swept a home-and-home series against Florida this season with a 5-0 win at Verizon Center on Feb.9, followed by a 6-5 overtime win in Sunrise three nights later. The Capitals then scored a season-high seven times in a 7-1 win over Florida on March 7 at Verizon Center.

Jacob Markstrom was pulled that night after allowing two goals on the first two shots he faced. Markstrom (who entered the week having started six of seven games) and Scott Clemmensen continue to share time in goal as Jose Theodore remains sidelined with a groin injury.

Florida has lost 10-of-12 overall and the injury bug has run rampant in South Florida. On Sunday the Panthers placed goalie Jose Theodore and defenseman Dimitry Kulikov on IR- a list that already included captain Ed Jovanovski and forwards Kris Versteeg, Scottie Upshall and Sean Begenheim.

Versteeg has not played since Feb.12 against the Capitals when he took a hit from Alex Ovechkin in the opening minutes.

Rookie Jonathan Huberdeau has been limited to one goal in his last 11 games, but the 19-year-old still leads all rookies with 13 goals and 25 points in 36 games this season.

SUNDAY, APRIL 7 VS. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (15-18-1; 14TH PLACE EASTERN CONFERENCE)

The Lightning make their first of two trips to Verizon Center on Sunday as they look to keep their Stanley Cup Playoff hopes alive.

After an impressive 6-1-0 start to the season, the Lightning went on to lose 18 of their next 25 games.

Third-year head coach Guy Boucher eventually paid the price as he was relieved of his coaching duties.

So far under the recently hired Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay is 2-0-0 with a pair of one-goal wins.

Steven Stamkos remains the NHL’s leading goal-scorer with 25 tallies in 34 games. He is also second in the NHL with 46 points, behind only Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby.

Captain Vincent Lecavalier has missed eight straight games (through Monday) with a lower body injury and remains out indefinitely.