The Washington Capitals look to tighten their grip on first place in the Southeast Division with a ninth straight victory on Thursday night as they battle the Ottawa Senators, who bring a more modest three-game winning streak into the meeting.
Ottawa should be focused after ripping off their third straight victory on Tuesday with a 3-2 win over the Hurricanes. The Senators current run follows a five-game slide and the club sits sixth overall in the Eastern Conference.
The Senators are three points back of the Maple Leafs for the fifth spot and one up on the seventh-place New York Islanders. Ottawa, looking to reach the playoffs for the third time in the past four years, is also four points ahead of the New York Rangers and Jets, who are tied for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.
All four of those teams are in action today.
Mika Zibanejad, Milan Michalek and Chris Neil all scored in Tuesday's win, while Craig Anderson made 32 saves. Sergei Gonchar finished with two assists.
"We keep climbing and putting ourselves in a good situation," Neil said. "We don't want to have to see if a team is going to lose to see if we make the playoffs. We want to go in hot, we want to go in winning.
Ottawa will play the second of a four-game homestand and has won seven of its past nine at home versus Washington. That includes a 3-2 victory on Jan. 29 in the first of three scheduled meetings between the teams this season. They will also battle in Washington on April 25.
Meanwhile, the Capitals are on their longest winning streak since taking nine in a row from Feb. 26-March 15, 2011. Their current run has vaulted them to the top of the division with 50 points, four ahead of the Winnipeg Jets with five games to go for both clubs.
The Jets host the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday and will also visit Washington on April 23 in the final regular season meeting this season between the clubs.
Washington is closing in on its sixth straight playoff berth and the first four came as division champs. The Capitals are looking to regain the Southeast crown and were able to best the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-1 on Tuesday.
Alex Ovechkin scored his 18th goal in 16 games, and his league-leading 28th of the season, while Martin Erat scored his first goal since being acquired from the Nashville Predators before the trade deadline. The duo each had an assist as well.
Troy Brouwer, Jack Hillen and Marcus Johansson also tallied, while Mike Ribeiro, Mike Green and John Carlson added a pair of helpers each. Braden Holtby made 29 saves in the win.
"We honestly haven't talked about statistics, where we are, how many (wins) in a row, man we're playing good," said Capitals head coach Adam Oates. "One of the things we talk about is I expect all those guys to be pros. You can enjoy tonight for sure. It was a good game, (but) tomorrow we focus on Ottawa."