CAPITALS (38-31-8) at BRUINS (45-28-3)
TV: NHLN-US (HD), CSN-MA (HD), NESN (HD)
Last 10 : Washington 5-3-2; Boston 5-5-0
Season Series: The Capitals have won two of the first three meetings this season, including a 4-3 victory at TD Garden on March 10.
Big Story: Washington is now in must-win mode after a brutal home loss to Buffalo, while Boston could move closer to securing the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference with a victory.
Capitals : Washington had a chance to grab control in the battle for eighth place in the East, but the Buffalo Sabres came to Verizon Center and routed the Capitals 5-1 on Tuesday night. Instead, the Caps in a position they haven't faced while winning their division in each of the past three seasons -- Washington must win and get help just to make the playoffs.
The Capitals' final five games include trips to Tampa Bay and New York, where they end the season against the Rangers, as well as home games against Montreal and Florida. Buffalo plays Pittsburgh at home Friday before a home-and-home with Toronto and road games in Philadelphia and Boston to finish the season. Washington does hold the tiebreaker, so the Capitals just need to finish with the same number of points as the Sabres to qualify.
"Now we're going to start needing a little bit of help," forward Mike Knuble said. "You've got to set a target of trying to get four out of these five and finish extremely strong. And then even if you do that and hold up that end of the bargain, you've got to wait for a little bit of help somewhere else."
Bruins: Two weeks ago Boston had lost four straight, including back-to-back blowout losses in the state of Florida, and was in danger of finishing seventh or eighth in the East. But the Bruins have won five of six since then and re-established their place atop the Northeast Division.
Boston has won three games in a row for the first time since December, and the Bruins' lead on second-place Ottawa has expanded to five points. They are also four points clear of the Florida Panthers for the second spot in the conference; each team has six games to play.
"I think we've been more consistent of late, and that's all that really matters," forward Shawn Thornton said. "There's a streak, no streak, whatever. We played a good game. Don't get too high, focus on Washington on Thursday after this."
Who's Hot: Alex Ovechkin was held in check by Buffalo, but he still has nine goals in his past eight games for Washington. … Brian Rolston has three goals and nine assists in the past seven games, while linemate Benoit Pouliot has five goals and seven assists in the same span for Boston. The third member of that trio, Chris Kelly, has three goals and four assists in those contests.
Injury Report: Caps' first-line center Nicklas Backstrom (concussion) has been cleared, but won't play Thursday; he's been out since Jan. 3. … Nathan Horton (concussion) and Tuukka Rask (abdominal) are both out for the Bruins.
Stat Pack: While many of the Capitals have struggled offensively this season, Jason Chimera has not. He has career highs in goals (19) and points (38) in his ninth full season in the NHL …. A tip for the Capitals: Don't fall behind against the Bruins. Boston is 30-0-0 this season when leading at the second intermission and 36-0-0 when leading by two goals at any point in a contest.
Puck Drop: There will likely be five players in Washington's lineup who were a part of the team the last time the Capitals needed a frantic finish to make the playoffs in 2007-08. Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Mike Green, Jeff Schultz and Brooks Laich were with the Capitals when they won 11 of 12 games, including the final seven, to finish the '07-08 season and win the Southeast Division on the final day.
Those guys are going to have to help Washington go on a similar run if the franchise's four-year streak of postseason appearances is going to extend to five.
"We reduce ourselves to fighting every day, you don't look any further than that," Laich said after the loss to Buffalo. "You live to fight one more day and you make the most of your chances. All we can do is win our hockey games. That's all we can do."
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