WASHINGTON, D.C. — After their longest road trip of the season — and a successful one at that — the Washington Capitals are back home and are sticking with what worked as they host the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Washington (44-23-11) went 3-1-1 on its five-game road swing, with their only loss coming against the Leafs (7-3). The Capitals have been playing some of their best hockey down the stretch. They sit in the second Wild Card spot and are two points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for third in the Metro and still have the opportunity to shake up the playoff picture and first-round matchups in the East.
“We don’t like the way the last game [in Toronto] went. It was the only one on the road trip that stunk and we gotta be better than that,” head coach Peter Laviolette said. “The guys know that too, but it’s a big game for a lot of different reasons. That factors into it a little bit as well.”
Toronto (51-21-7) has the opportunity on Sunday to clinch second in the Atlantic Division and home-ice advantage in the first round. If the Leafs win in any fashion in D.C. and the Florida Panthers top the Tampa Bay Lightning in any fashion, they will clinch. They can also clinch if they notch a point against the Capitals and the Panthers beat the Bolts in regulation. Toronto is 6-2-2 in its last 10 games and has dropped back-to-back matchups against Tampa and Florida.
Washington isn’t making changes to the lineup, and Vitek Vanecek will get the call between the pipes, per Laviolette. Here are what the lines looked like last game against the Arizona Coyotes:
Alex Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Tom Wilson
Marcus Johansson-Nicklas Backstrom-Conor Sheary
Anthony Mantha-Lars Eller-T.J. Oshie
Johan Larsson-Nic Dowd-Garnet Hathaway
Martin Fehervary-John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov-Nick Jensen
Trevor van Riemsdyk-Justin Schultz
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When it comes to players to watch, the spotlight is on Alex Ovechkin and Auston Matthews. If Matthews plays, this will be the first time since 2008 that two 50-goal scorers have faced off in a regular-season showdown.
Also look out for Conor Sheary, who hit the 40-point mark on Friday and had another multi-point performance. Marcus Johansson also has points in three of his last four games.
On the Toronto side of the matchup, William Nylander had two goals against the Capitals the last time these two teams faced off and has eight points in his last seven games. Also watch out for Mitch Marner, who has points in five of his last six games. Michael Bunting, who has been a standout rookie, was injured last game and is going to miss significant time.