Apr 2, 2012, 8:45 AM EDT
The Washington Capitals can’t clinch the playoffs Monday night, but they can put themselves firmly in the driver’s seat with a win against the Tampa Bay Lightning. With three games left in Washington and the ninth place Buffalo Sabres’ schedules, Washington has a two-point lead and control over the tiebreaker. That means if Washington wins two of their remaining contests, they will get into the postseason regardless of what Buffalo does. If the Capitals beat Tampa Bay on Monday, then Buffalo will need to come away with five points in their final three games just to stand a chance of making the playoffs.
Beyond that, a win today would keep the pressure on the Florida Panthers in the Southeast Division race. Although it’s a long shot at this point, if Washington can keep winning and get some help, it is possible for them to end up with the third seed over the Panthers. It helps that Washington will get a chance to gain some ground on Thursday in a matchup against Florida.
Aside from the playoff implications, this will also be the second match in Nicklas Backstrom’s comeback attempt. He returned on Saturday after missing almost three months due to a concussion and ended up logging 19:40 minutes.
“I can’t be worried about getting hit again, and that’s what I did from the start and it felt all right, but I can be a little bit better,” Backstrom said. “My lungs were a little tired there after a while.”
These next three contests should prove invaluable to Backstrom as he shakes off the rust and gets ready to compete in the playoffs, should the Capitals make it.
On the Lightning side of things, the focus won’t be on them so much as it will be on Steven Stamkos. Tampa Bay can’t make the playoffs, but Stamkos is four goals away from 60 with four games left in their schedule. Given how hot Stamkos has been lately, it’s certainly possible that he’ll be the first player since Alex Ovechkin in 2007-08 to reach that mark.
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