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Caps host desperate Hurricanes

Mar 29, 2011 - 3:28 PM
(Sports Network) - The Washington Capitals will try to move closer to a fourth straight Southeast Division title when they host the desperate Carolina Hurricanes tonight at Verizon Center.

The playoff-bound Capitals are currently atop the division with 98 points, giving them a seven-point cushion over Tampa Bay, which is hosting Ottawa tonight. With seven tests left in the regular season, the Lightning hold a game in hand over Washington.

Washington is also two points behind Philadelphia for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Pittsburgh, which also has 98 points, is hosting the Flyers this evening.

While Washington has already clinched a playoff spot, the Hurricanes are running out of time in their quest for a postseason berth. Carolina has 80 points and is five behind Buffalo for the East's eighth and final playoff seed. The Sabres are playing tonight in Toronto.

The Caps will be aiming for a sweep of their six-game season series with Carolina tonight. Washington has won all five encounters between the clubs this year, but four of those victories came by just one goal. The Hurricanes have lost eight of 11 overall in this series and have also dropped three in a row and five of their last six in D.C.

Washington last played on Saturday in Montreal and recorded a 2-0 win behind the second career shutout of Braden Holtby, who needed to make just 18 saves.

Marco Sturm and Alexander Semin tallied for the Capitals, who have won three of four and 12 of their last 14 games.

Holtby has earned victories in each of his last six appearances, but the 21- year-old was sent back to Hershey of the AHL on Sunday. Michal Neuvirth was unable to dress for Saturday's game due to an illness, but the goaltender is expected to be well enough to at least suit up as the backup to Semyon Varlamov tonight.

Caps forward Jason Arnott has sat out the last six games with a groin injury, but he is expected to be back in the lineup sometime this week. Washington superstar Alex Ovechkin, who has sat out the last three tests with an undisclosed injury, could also make his return this week.

This evening's tilt marks the first of three straight on home ice for the Caps, who are 22-8-7 as the host this year. Washington has won five straight in D.C. since a 6-0 loss to the visiting New York Rangers on Feb. 25.

The Hurricanes had won three straight before losing Saturday's regulation decision against visiting Tampa Bay. The 4-2 loss came one night after Carolina recorded a 4-3 regulation win in Tampa to begin the home-and-home series.

Eric Staal and Erik Cole scored the goals for Carolina in Saturday's loss, while Cam Ward made 28 saves in defeat.

The setback was just the second in six games for Carolina, but the Hurricanes know that every loss at this stage of the year does tremendous damage to the club's fading playoff hopes.

"Now we're going to need some help here," Hurricanes head coach Paul Maurice said. "We've got to come pretty close to running the table here going out."

Carolina defenseman Joni Pitkanen sat out Saturday's game with a bout of food poisoning and he is questionable for tonight. Pitkanen is leading the Hurricanes this season in ice time (25:11) and is second among the club's defensemen with 33 points (3 goals, 30 assists).

The 'Canes have won their last two road games, but are just 15-17-6 as the guest this season.