Washington hasn't locked up Southeast Division yet
The end is in sight now for the Capitals. With six games left in the NHL regular season, a fifth Southeast Division title in six years is close.
But Washington's work isn't complete. With a four-point lead over the second-place Winnipeg Jets, a few more wins will wrap up the division and the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. But a loss Tuesday night at home against the Toronto Maple Leafs would make things interesting.
"We need to not think about it. We need to continue playing the way we've been playing," forward Troy Brouwer said. "Our last [six] games here, we've got some pretty tough teams with Boston, Toronto. We do have to get confidence against them and try and get wins against them going into the playoffs."
|Maple Leafs at Capitals|
|When » Tuesday, 7 p.m.|
|Where » Verizon Center|
|TV » CSN|
Indeed, the Caps have just four wins over teams in the top eight of the conference, and only one of those was in regulation. That came last Tuesday on the road against the Montreal Canadiens. They also will have chances down the stretch twice against the Ottawa Senators, who entered Monday as the No. 6 seed and would be Washington's playoff opponent, and once more against the Jets at home April 23. The Caps are 0-3 this season against the Senators and the Maple Leafs, who currently hold the No. 5 seed.
"You definitely don't want to go into playoffs, if you're gonna be in there, thinking that you're winning all these games no problem," defenseman Karl Alzner said. "But you're playing all these teams that aren't in it. You want to have a good challenge. You want to be able to measure yourself up against the best."
Washington (23-17-2, 48 points) is now tied with Winnipeg in regulation and overtime wins (20) -- the first tiebreaker determining the division winner. The Caps already own the second tiebreaker, which is points in the season series. They have beaten the Jets three times in regulation to just one loss. Winnipeg hosts Tampa Bay on Tuesday night.
Meanwhile, Marcus Johansson, who has played effectively on the top line with teammates Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, left practice early Monday with a minor lower-body tweak, though coach Adam Oates called it precautionary and said his left wing would play against Toronto.
Forward Joel Ward, who has missed the last three games after blocking a shot with his left knee April 7 in a game against the Lightning, skated briefly during practice but is not ready to return. Oates said he hoped to provide clarification Tuesday about injured forward Brooks Laich, who missed 28 games to start the year with a groin injury and reinjured it April 4 against the New York Islanders. He has since seen two specialists.
The Caps blew a 2-1 third-period lead in Toronto on Jan. 31 when they gave up a pair of third-period goals. Five days later they fell behind 2-0 to the Maple Leafs (23-13-5, 51 points) at home when forward James Van Riemsdyk scored twice in the first 12:35. Toronto won that game 3-2 as well.