|Can the Caps keep up their dominance of Carolina?|
The Washington Capitals will welcome the Carolina Hurricanes to Verizon Center tonight as they take to their home ice for the first time in over two weeks. The Capitals come into tonight's game with 98 points in 76 games, which places them first in the Southeast Division and second in the Eastern Conference, coming off a 2-0 win in Montreal Saturday night. Washington has clinched a playoff spot. The Hurricanes report for duty with 80 points in 75 games, which is good for third in the Southeast Division and ninth in the East, five points behind the Sabres for the final playoff spot. Carolina lost to the Lightning at home last time out, falling by a score of 4-2. This will be the sixth and final meeting between these two teams this season; the Capitals have won all five games in the series, the last four coming by one goal.
Carolina coach Paul Maurice is expected to roll with Cam Ward in nets for his team for the tenth consecutive game. Ward is having an excellent season, leading the NHL in saves and posting 32 wins, a 2.64 GAA, .920 Save%, and three shutouts in 67 games played. Ward has played the Caps tough all year and DC will need to be on top of their game to get some past him and this desperate Hurricanes team. On the injury front, Carolina got a boost over the weekend when defenseman Jamie McBain returned after breaking his arm in early March; he is expected to play. Top defenseman Joni Pitkanen is questionable with food poisoning.
For the Capitals, Semyon Varlamov is likely to get the call in goal from head coach Bruce Boudreau, as Michal Neuvirth skated yesterday at practice but is likely not back to full strength. Varlamov is 3-0 against Carolina this year, and has allowed 2 goals in all 4 starts against them. On the season, the young Russian has compiled ten wins, a 2.26 GAA, a .923 Save%, and two shutouts in 25 games. Outside the crease, the Capitals will be without defenseman Mike Green, who is still working his way back from a concussion. Alex Ovechkin (undisclosed), Jason Arnott (groin) and Tom Poti (groin) are all considered "questionable." Returns from Ovechkin and Arnott would likely push Jay Beagle and Marco Sturm to the press box, while Poti's return would likely bump John Erskine from the lineup. DJ King and Tyler Sloan are expected to be healthy scratches regardless.
Puck drops for this one 7:08-ish. Check back for updates from the morning skate.