Capitals face formidable foe in Lightning
The Washington Capitals officially clinched a spot in the NHL's postseason with a road win against the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday, but the reigning champs have more business at hand.
First off, repeating as Stanley Cup champions.
And if the Capitals are going to add a second Cup to their collection, they had better find a way to win at Tampa Bay's Amalie Arena.
Washington (46-24-8, 100 points) squares off against the Lightning, winners of the Presidents' Cup, on Saturday in Tampa for their third and final meeting.
Collecting 100 points for the fifth straight season, the Capitals hold a three-point lead over the New York Islanders for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division with four games to play, but solving the Lightning has been an issue in the two previous matchups.
The Eastern Conference powerhouses will face each other for the third time this month, but the Capitals (0-1-1) are looking for their first win against Tampa Bay.
On March 16 in Tampa, Washington fell 6-3, and when the two squads met again four days later in the nation's capital, the defending champions allowed four goals in the second period and a game-winner to Victor Hedman in overtime as the Lightning won 5-4.
Washington has won three straight -- two over Carolina in a home-and-home set -- and is 3-1-0 in its last four games since falling in overtime at home to Tampa Bay.
Goaltender Braden Holtby, who notched a 30-win campaign for the fifth consecutive season, said his team should never assume it will get into the postseason, regardless of the standings.
"The more you play, the more you realize seeding doesn't matter," said Holtby. "Your goal is to make the playoffs. We're supposed to make the playoffs. Maybe we take it a bit for granted. We've been lucky to have good teams. Every team is close."
However, no one this season has been close to the Lightning (59-14-4), especially on home ice.
Tampa Bay sports a 32-6-2 mark at home, and with nothing at stake in the standings in terms of playoff seeding, the Lightning will focus on staying healthy, sharpening their game and maybe looking at a chance to make history.
The club is three wins away from matching the NHL's record for most wins in a season, a milestone held by the Detroit Red Wings in their 62-win campaign in 1995-96.
The Lightning have won 10 of their last 12 but round out the regular season with games at Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and Boston.
They should be well rested, having last played in Monday's 5-4 home win over the Boston Bruins that was fueled by a third-period rally featuring goals from Hedman, Nikita Kucherov and Anthony Cirelli.
Cirelli, 21, scored the game-winner, his 18th goal, in the last minute, but fellow forward Alex Killorn said he is most impressed by another skill of his teammate.
"Defensively, to be that good defensively this young in the league is something that's really rare. That's the reason why he gets played in so many different situations for us. We're happy to have him," Killorn said.
--Field Level Media
Updated March 29, 2019