The Washington Capitals do not need to be reminded of the importance of their upcoming five-game road trip.
With another chance to possibly take over first place in the Southeast Division, the Capitals look for a fourth consecutive win Tuesday night when they begin the trip with a visit to the struggling New York Islanders.
The postseason is still a month away, but Washington (35-28-6) feels as if it's in the midst of a playoff atmosphere every game while scrapping for playoff positioning in the Eastern Conference. The Capitals currently own the eighth and final playoff spot, but trail Florida by a single point for the Southeast lead and corresponding third seed. The Panthers host Toronto on Tuesday.
This challenging five-game trip to New York, Winnipeg, Chicago, Detroit and Philadelphia could go a long way toward determining just where the Capitals finish. Washington is 12-18-3 away from home, but will be trying for a season-high third straight road victory Tuesday.
"It's playoff hockey," coach Dale Hunter told the Capitals' official website. "We need the wins in the standings, but we have to worry about the Islanders first, concentrate on them."
Washington is 1-2-0 versus New York (28-31-10) this season, but won 3-2 in overtime at home in the teams' last meeting Feb. 28.
Forward Brooks Laich has a goal and an assist against the Islanders this season, and three goals in his last four games overall. He scored for the second straight contest Sunday - a short-handed tally in Washington's 2-0 win over the Maple Leafs.
Since Feb. 18, the Capitals have lost three straight, won three in a row, then dropped the next three before their current three-game winning streak.
"It's always nice when you're back-and-forth, back-and-forth, and you're still in it,'' said Alex Ovechkin, who has been quiet recently with one goal and one assist in the last six games. "It's nice when you know, like, the season's not over.''
Despite his recent lack of production, Ovechkin has two goals against the Islanders in 2011-12. That included one Nov. 5 during a 5-3 loss on Long Island that snapped Washington's six-game road winning streak in the series.
Michal Neuvirth, 4-0-0 with a 1.37 goals-against average against the Islanders, made 23 saves Sunday for his third shutout of the season. Tomas Vokoun won the previous two games but has a 3.69 GAA during a personal three-game skid versus New York.
"Both guys are ready to go,'' Hunter said. "And that's good for me.''
Not much has been good lately for the Islanders, who are looking to avoid a fourth straight loss. One day after blowing a 1-0 lead with 1:39 left in a 2-1 loss to New Jersey, New York failed to hold three one-goal advantages Sunday en route to a 4-3 overtime defeat to the rival Rangers.
"It's very frustrating,'' said Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic, who had two assists Sunday.
Tavares has goals in two straight games overall, and two in three contests versus Washington in 2011-12.