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Mar 20, 2024 3:56 am

Caps open rough stretch with game vs. Maple Leafs

ovechkin

The Washington Capitals have won three in a row to significantly improve their playoff chances with 15 games remaining, but the next half-dozen will go a long way toward determining their fate.

The Capitals host the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night to begin a stretch of six straight games against teams currently holding postseason positions.

Washington (33-25-9, 75 points) moved into a playoff spot for the first time since Jan. 2 with a 5-2 win against the Calgary Flames on Monday. However, the Capitals were bounced right back out 24 hours later when the Detroit Red Wings scored with 13 seconds left in regulation to tie the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday before winning 4-3 in overtime.

Detroit now holds the final Eastern Conference wild-card spot by one point over the Capitals and three over the New York Islanders.

Third place in the Metropolitan Division is also within reach for Washington, but the Philadelphia Flyers held off the Maple Leafs 4-3 on Tuesday to extend their lead to three points over the Capitals.

After the Capitals play the Maple Leafs, they host the Carolina Hurricanes, Winnipeg Jets and the Red Wings before heading to Toronto and then hosting the Boston Bruins on March 30.

“We keep fighting, keep playing and we go game by game,” Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said. “We all understand we still can do it. We’re still in the battle. Every point counts. Of course, we all knew we’re going to play against teams who are fighting for a playoff spot as well, and it’s going to be playoffs mode, playoffs atmosphere.”

Ovechkin is one of the reasons the Capitals have been surging.

He has three goals in the past two games, including two against the Flames, to give him 21 on the season. Ovechkin became the first player in NHL history to put up 20-plus goals in each of his first 19 seasons.

After totaling eight goals through the opening 43 games this season, Ovechkin has scored 13 in the past 21 games to pull within 51 of Wayne Gretzky for the all-time NHL record.

Washington forward Dylan Strome continues to enjoy arguably the best season of his eight-year NHL career. He had a goal and an assist against Calgary to tie his career high with 23 goals.

“We’re just coming together at the right time as a team,” Strome said.

Toronto (38-20-9, 85 points) has lost two in a row for the first time since mid-January but still sits comfortably in third place in the Atlantic Division, seven points ahead of the fourth-place Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Maple Leafs trailed 3-0 entering the third period against the Flyers on Tuesday. Toronto then made things interesting by scoring the first two goals of the period and another with 2:10 left to pull within a goal, but the comeback was stopped there.

“Just didn’t play well enough on our half of the ice with or without the puck,” Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe said. “Just weren’t sharp. Weren’t sharp mentally. Couldn’t pass the puck, couldn’t handle the puck, didn’t defend, didn’t compete, so not a lot to like.”

Mitch Marner, who ranks third on the Maple Leafs with 76 points, will miss his fifth straight game with an ankle injury.

Toronto forward Ryan Reaves left the game against the Flyers shortly after a fight with Nicolas Deslauriers in the first period, and he did not return.

–Field Level Media

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