- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2008

At first glance, the Washington Capitals appear to be on a roll.

The Caps have won five of six and nine of 13 since the trade deadline. Two of those losses came on back-to-back days and were games in which Washington was the dominant team. In their previous game, the Caps outshot Atlanta 23-2 in the final period and rattled off four straight goals for an impressive comeback victory.

Still, there are issues to be had with this recent run of prosperity — specifically the past four games. The Caps have not played well for more than short stretches in any of those games.

“I think we went through a lull for three games and we were lucky enough to win two of them,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “We didn’t play great or consistently great. We’re hoping the sense of urgency we showed [Friday] will be the same [today] — if not more.”

They were bailed out by their goaltender against Boston, got by with great period at Nashville and lost in the first period at Chicago.

And while everyone will remember the fantastic finish in Atlanta, what about the second period when Washington was vastly outplayed by a team that had lost 14 of 16 and nothing to play for?

For the Caps to continue their late-season postseason push, building on the momentum of the third period against the Thrashers is critical, but so is finding a consistent level of play that has escaped them for a week.

It probably won’t take long tonight to figure out whether Washington’s third period at Philips Arena was the start of something positive. The Caps are at RBC Center for a tussle with the Southeast Division-leading Carolina Hurricanes, and it is a game of significant importance for both teams.

Washington trails Carolina by five points in the division standings. The Hurricanes have not lost to the Caps at home this season, and two of the three games have not been close. They have won 11 of 12 and continue to surge despite missing key contributors like Rod Brind’Amour, Justin Williams, Ray Whitney and Matt Cullen.

“If we don’t find a way to win [today], then basically the division is over,” Caps goaltender Olie Kolzig said. “If we win, then we still have a chance. For me though, it is just get in.”

A win would keep the Caps in the division race but maybe more importantly would help them keep pace in a crowded bunch vying for the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. Six points separate six teams, and Boston’s slide (3-5-4 in March), combined with both the Bruins’ and Philadelphia Flyers’ tough closing schedules, have fostered plenty of hope in the other four cities.

Something that certainly would help the Caps is goal scoring from sources besides Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Brooks Laich.

Since the Caps routed Boston 10-2 on March 3, they have scored 24 goals in nine games. Sixteen of them have come from Ovechkin (eight), Backstrom (four) and Laich (four). Of the 14 even-strength goals during that span, 10 have come from the top line of Ovechkin, Backstrom and Viktor Kozlov.

“Just because some of our other lines aren’t scoring doesn’t mean they aren’t contributing,” Laich said. “Some guys concentrate so much on penalty killing or playing a physical game, establishing a forecheck — little things that you’re not going to write about in the paper or show up on the scoresheet but win hockey games. Matt Bradley finishing his checks wears down the d-men so guys like [Ovechkin] go out there and buzz around and put the puck in the net.”

Today’s game

WASHINGTON CAPITALS AT CAROLINA HURRICANES

When: 7 p.m.

Where: RBC Center, Raleigh, N.C.

TV/radio: CSN, AM-1500, FM-107.7

Goalies: Capitals — Cristobal Huet (26-14-6, 2.46). Hurricanes — Cam Ward (35-22-4, 2.77)

Injuries: Capitals — Out: D Brian Pothier (concussion), C Michael Nylander (torn rotator cuff), C David Steckel (broken finger), RW Chris Clark (strained groin tendon), D John Erskine (concussion). Hurricanes — Out: C Rod Brind’Amour (torn ACL), RW Justin Williams (torn ACL), LW Ray Whitney (ankle), C Matt Cullen (concussion), LW Chad LaRose (broken leg), D David Tanabe (concussion).

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