The Washington Capitals have been playing catch-up in the Eastern Conference playoff race since their six-game losing streak in February.
That effort will continue Friday when they host the St. Louis Blues.
The Capitals rallied for 5-4 shootout victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday to improve to 4-2-1 in their last seven games. Washington overcame 3-1 and 4-2 deficits to force the overtime and shootout.
“Every game has to kind of be a playoff mentality for us, and there’s no time like playoffs when you’re down goals and able to fuel comebacks,” Capitals forward T.J. Oshie said. “There was some desperation out there that you typically see in the postseason, some big goals out of our big guys, some incredible setup shifts before those goals.”
The Capitals, Sabres, Florida Panthers and Ottawa Senators are chasing the New York Islanders for the last wild card slot on their side of the NHL.
So Washington star Alexander Ovechkin felt the urgency to return from his lower-body injury after missing his team’s 5-3 loss to the New York Rangers on Tuesday.
“This time of the year, you don’t want to miss any games. … You just can’t,” Ovechkin said after the Sabres victory. “Obviously, (Tuesday) night we have a chance to come back but we didn’t, and back-to-back play against a young, fast team was a challenge, and it was a good two points.”
While the Capitals are persisting with their postseason push, the Blues are moving forward with their retooling. They surrendered this season by making multiple trades ahead of the NHL trade deadline to gain long-term assets.
The Blues are 3-8-2 in their last 13 games. They are coming off of an 8-5 loss to the Minnesota Wild, featuring a second-period defensive collapse after they broke out to a 3-1 first-period lead.
Minnesota blitzed the Blues for five goals in the second 20 minutes.
“What bothers me is just our lack of puck play in the second period,” Blues coach Craig Berube said. “And our lack of protecting our net better. They scored a few goals around our net tonight.
“That’s all we talked about before the game — that we gotta be better there — and we weren’t good enough.”
Pavel Buchnevich has been a bright spot for the Blues while seeing significant ice time at center for the first time in his career. During his 10-game point streak he has seven goals and 11 assists.
The Capitals missed forward Sonny Milano in the past two games due to a non-COVID illness. Aliaksei Protas filled in as coach Peter Laviolette shuffled his forward lines.
Washington also lost defenseman Nick Jensen to an undisclosed injury during their victory over Buffalo.
The Blues won the previous game between the teams 5-4 on Nov. 17 in St Louis. Ovechkin had a goal, two assists and nine shots on goal during that game while Thomas Greiss made 47 saves for the Blues to earn the victory.
Greiss figures to get another crack at the Capitals with Jordan Binnington getting a two-game suspension for his match penalty for striking Wild forward Ryan Hartman in the head with his blocker in Wednesday’s game.
–Field Level Media