Capitals aim to clinch playoff spot versus Hurricanes

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The Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes are eyeing different prizes as the final week of the season approaches.

Their objectives are similar as they go into Thursday night’s game at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C.

Winning the game would enhance the playoff position for either team.

“We need everyone (on board) right now,” Capitals goalie Braden Holtby said. “We’re focused on trying to win a game so we’re not letting anything get in our head.”

It’s a rematch of a game that the Capitals won 4-1 on Tuesday night in Washington. The Capitals scored three third-period goals in that game.

That puts perhaps even a bigger premium on the rematch for Carolina.

“We have to be better the next game,” Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton said. “We know the situation we’re in and the teams around us. We have to try to win every game.”

With the back-to-back meetings, the Capitals are aware that the Hurricanes are bound to show a certain spark for Thursday night’s game.

“We should expect them to be much better when we play them and especially in their building,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. “I expect a strong response from them.”

Washington is attempting to stay atop the Metropolitan Division with Pittsburgh and the New York Islanders in close pursuit. The Capitals can clinch an Eastern Conference playoff spot with another victory.

The Hurricanes are in playoff position as a wild card but that’s a fluid situation in what appears to be a three-way battle for two spots between Carolina, Montreal and Columbus.

“It’s a great position to be in,” Carolina captain Justin Williams said knowing that the Hurricanes control their destiny with six games to play.

The Capitals, who have five games to play, are 3-2-1 in their last six games.

This week’s two-game set is also a preview of playoffs when teams play multiple games in a row against the same opponent.

“That’s the norm in the playoffs,” Reirden said. “That’s great for us. You know they’re going to make some adjustments and so are we.”

Williams is a veteran of numerous playoff series, including time with the Capitals. But Carolina hasn’t been in the postseason since 2009.

“We have to go out and take care of business and win our games,” Williams said. “… You can’t look for help. That’s not the way you do it. You take care of your own business. If someone else loses, that’s great.”

Washington has won all three meetings with the Hurricanes this season, holding a 13-7 scoring edge with one of the victories coming in a shootout.

“We play them enough,” Williams said. “We know what they are. They know what we are.”

The Hurricanes have been one of the highest-scoring teams in the NHL the past 2 1/2 months.

“I think their team really feeds on if you get a breakout,” Holtby said. “I think we made some good adjustments. I thought we did a really good job of trusting each other.”

Most of the attention on the Capitals in Tuesday’s victory was focused on Alex Ovechkin‘s league-leading 49th goal of the season. He needs one goal to become the third play in NHL history with eight different seasons at the 50-goal level.

But Washington’s defensive work was vital.

“One of our better ones overall as far as getting our team game defensively,” Reirden said. “You know that their shot volume is high. That’s something they’ve been all year. You do the best you can to try to get in shot lanes. … To keep them under 30 shots, we were happy with that. They have some high-end skill, for sure, so you can’t let up at all.”

–Field Level Media

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