Capitals and Penguins clash with playoff position on the line
In a clash of rivals that could help determine playoff positioning, the Washington Capitals will visit the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday.
Both teams in the Metropolitan Division have long histories of hard-fought games and playoffs, and the setup of that creates drama.
Pittsburgh (41-21-10, 92 points) has been in the top three in the division for weeks, and it seems the biggest question was whether the Penguins would hit the ice in a scheduled first-round matchup. with the New York Rangers. , while Washington (38-22-10, 86 points) was destined to get a wild card.
But beware. Saturday’s game could help solidify that — or open the door for Washington to act. The Capitals are six points behind the Penguins with two games in hand heading into the teams’ final regular-season meeting.
Additionally, Pittsburgh has lost three straight and is 2-5-1 in its last eight games. There have been three losses to the New York Rangers during that streak, including a 3-0 loss Thursday at New York, as the Rangers edged out the Penguins for second in the Metro.
Additionally, the Penguins had a travel issue that prompted them to cancel their Friday practice. That leaves Sidney Crosby’s status as captain and leading scorer up in the air for Saturday. Crosby, defenseman John Marino and forward Radim Zohorna missed Thursday’s game due to a non-COVID-related illness that tore the team apart, and no updates are expected until Saturday.
None of that seemed to shake Pittsburgh’s confidence.
“I’m not worried,” Penguins defenseman Kris Letang said. “We have to keep preparing for the playoffs and have confidence in ourselves.”
There was no anger or frustration emanating from Pittsburgh.
“I think we did the right thing,” said goaltender Tristan Jarry, who has lost three straight starts. “I don’t think we’ve had any rebounds in the last two games. I think the team is playing very well and we’re going to turn it around.”
Doing this on Saturday would be beneficial.
The Capitals seemingly reached the point the Penguins were aiming for when they beat two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay 4-3 on Wednesday, a game that followed two straight losses.
“We knew the kind of effort it takes, and I think now you channel that and move on,” said Washington defenseman John Carlson, who scored twice and had four points against the Lightning.
The Capitals don’t shy away from big games against Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh.
“As a group, you have to face it head-on,” Washington forward Tom Wilson said. “These are games where you have to be good. It’s exciting to play against these teams. These are the battles you look forward to throughout the year. … There’s not a lot of thinking or dip your toes in the water.”
Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin, whose rivalry with Crosby dates back to their rookie season in 2005-06, scored his 43rd goal and added an assist Thursday for 1,401 career points.
Crosby, who has 72 points in 59 games, is not far behind with 1,397 career points as the two continue to climb the NHL’s all-time list with the top 20 in sight.
Whether Ovechkin and Crosby stage another head-to-head battle on Saturday will depend on Crosby’s health.
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