Two huge games in one trip to Winnipeg for Capitals

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Sports,NHL,Capitals,Brian McNally

Washington goes back-to-back at division leaders

The Capitals played well, but it was not enough to earn a road win against an elite team. They competed hard, but still left Pittsburgh without two standings points.

The start of a four-game road trip saw a 2-1 loss to the Penguins on Tuesday. With just 19 games remaining in the regular season, Washington likely needs a pair of wins in a hostile environment Thursday and Friday to keep its fading Stanley Cup playoff hopes alive.

But the Caps (12-16-1, 25 points) do have a chance to make up some ground quickly on the Winnipeg Jets when they face the Southeast Division leaders in back-to-back games on Thursday and Friday at MTS Centre. That's an extreme rarity in the NHL, but a result of the lockout-shortened schedule and the need to ease travel issues. The Jets remain in the far-away Southeast Division for one more season and this allows Washington to play three games in just two visits to Manitoba.

up next
Capitals at Jets
When » Thursday, 8 p.m.
Where » MTS Centre
Winnipeg, Canada
TV » CSN

"I think it's biggest week for us," said star winger Alex Ovechkin on Sunday. "How we going to play this week? We can end the season this week or we continue to fight for the playoffs. We have to see what's in our side."

Despite having one of the loudest, most intimidating arenas in the league, Winnipeg actually hasn't fared all that well at home this season. The Jets are 7-6 at home in 2013 and that includes a 3-0 loss to the Caps on March ?2. Braden Holtby had the shutout in goal that afternoon for Washington. Matt Hendricks, Troy Brouwer and Mike Ribeiro all scored for the Caps.

Winnipeg (16-12-2, 34 points) is nine points ahead of Washington in the division with one more game played. It holds a slim lead over Carolina (15-12-2, 32 points) in the Southeast and yet is just two points ahead of ninth-place New Jersey, so this series of games is huge for the Jets' playoff hopes, too.

The Caps will enter Thursday's game seven points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The team currently in that position is the New York Rangers, who host the Capitals on Sunday at Madison Square Garden.

According to multiple reports following the Caps' afternoon practice in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, defenseman Mike Green will play against the Jets. He has missed 13 of the last 15 games with a groin injury but was paired with defenseman Karl Alzner during practice. That would be a huge boost to a team that is also missing defensemen John Erskine (upper-body injury), Tomas Kundratek (lower-body injury) and Tom Poti (back).

Forward Brooks Laich, also fighting through a groin injury, made his season debut against the Penguins in Tuesday's game playing left wing. He began on the fourth line but finished the game on the second line with Brouwer and center Nicklas Backstrom. Laich did not practice, according to reports but is expected to play again in Winnipeg.

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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