Blue Jackets-Capitals Preview

Now that the Washington Capitals have Alex Ovechkin back in the

lineup, they are looking to finish strong and set themselves up for

the postseason.

The Capitals can take another step toward winning the Southeast

Division on Thursday night when they host the Columbus Blue

Jackets.

Ovechkin returned for Tuesday’s 3-2 shootout loss to Carolina

after missing three games due to an undisclosed injury. He had 14

points in his 10 previous games before failing to register any

against the Hurricanes.

“It was pretty hard when you come back after three games sitting

out,” Ovechkin said. “But every shift, every period I felt better

and better.”

Washington (44-22-11) holds a six-point lead over Tampa Bay as

it tries for its fourth straight division title. The Capitals are

one point shy of reaching 100 for the third straight campaign after

amassing 121 to win the Presidents’ Trophy last season.

“As a group, I think we’ve come along, we’ve grown up,” coach

Bruce Boudreau said. “We won’t have 121 points this year but I

think we’re smarter as a group and maybe a little bit better as a

team.”

Perhaps more importantly, the Capitals are three points ahead of

Northeast Division leader Boston in the race for the Eastern

Conference’s No. 2 seed. Washington trails East-leading

Philadelphia by three points.

“All these games are important to us,” Boudreau said. “And we

wanna go in (to the playoffs) playing the best we can.”

Defenseman Dennis Wideman is listed as day to day after he

suffered a lower-body injury against Carolina. Wideman has 14

points in seven games with the Capitals, who acquired him Feb. 28

from Florida.

Ovechkin has gone four straight games versus the Blue Jackets

(34-31-11) without scoring after totaling four goals in his first

two against them.

Columbus forward R.J. Umberger will likely get a rude reception

from Capitals fans Thursday. Umberger was critical of Washington’s

playing style before last season’s playoffs, when the Capitals were

upset by Montreal in the first round.

It should be a better reception for veteran forward Chris Clark,

a former Washington captain who will return to the Verizon Center

for the first time since being traded to Columbus on Dec. 8,

2009.

The Blue Jackets have won their last two visits to Washington,

and they improved to 4-0-1 against Southeast opponents with

Tuesday’s 3-2 shootout win over Florida. Columbus ended a four-game

skid.

“These guys needed a win to lose that crappy feeling we’ve had

for an extended period of time, especially at home,” coach Scott

Arniel said. “We were real good for most of the game. Guys aren’t

quitting, they’re still playing hard and going after teams.”

Rick Nash has nine points during a four-game run against

Washington, with two assists in last season’s 3-2 home loss.

Steve Mason is 3-0-0 with two shutouts and a 1.34 goals-against

average in three career starts against Washington. Mathieu Garon is

2-1-1 with a 2.85 GAA in four starts versus the Capitals.

None of Washington’s goalies have faced Columbus.