Pens look to keep slim division hopes alive vs. Caps

PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins will try to keep their slim hopes of a division title alive, and Alex Ovechkin is slated to become the first player in Washington Capitals history to reach 1,000 NHL games when the teams clash Sunday night at PPG Paints Arena.

The Capitals (46-25-7) are coming off a 4-1 loss Friday against the Carolina Hurricanes but still sit first in the Metropolitan Division, three points ahead of the second-place Penguins (45-28-6), who clinched a playoff spot for a franchise-record 12th year in a row Saturday with a 5-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens.

The Capitals were disappointed with the loss against the Hurricanes, which ended a five-game winning streak.

“It was a game that (we) could (have) put some more distance between us and the Penguins,” Washington coach Barry Trotz said.

Capitals center Jay Beagle said it was not a matter of putting the Penguins game ahead of the game against the Hurricanes.

“I don’t think we overlooked them, but we had better make sure we’re coming in to (Pittsburgh) in playoff mode because that’s going to be like we’ve seen a playoff matchup,” Beagle said. “We’ve got to go in there and get playing the right way. Now, obviously, it starts Sunday.

“We’ve got to play playoff hockey starting Sunday and get in that mindset. And it’s going to be good because we’re playing an opponent that’s easy to get in that mindset for.”

Washington winger T.J. Oshie traveled to Pittsburgh, but his status is unclear after he left Friday’s game because of a lower-body injury. Trotz indicated that the Capitals are being extra cautious with injuries this close to the postseason.

Ovechkin, 32, is the first member of the 2004 NHL draft to reach 1,000 games. The sniper, selected first overall that summer, scored his 600th career goal earlier in March.

The Capitals and Penguins have had a strong rivalry for decades, in recent years because of the matchup of Ovechkin against Pittsburgh star centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

This time, Pittsburgh might be more concerned about earning points to hang onto second in the division for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The Penguins are 29-8-2 at home, 16-20-4 on the road.

“Now we can look to put ourselves in the best possible position,” coach Mike Sullivan said of clinching. “We’re going to take each game as it comes and try to do our very best to win each game, and we’ll see where that takes us.”

Washington has four games remaining, Pittsburgh and Columbus three apiece. At the very least, the Penguins are assured of getting to the playoffs, so they can make a run at a third straight Stanley Cup.

“If you don’t make the playoffs, you can’t win the Stanley Cup. That’s the first step to make the playoffs,” said Penguins winger Patric Hornqvist, who picked up his 200th career goal Saturday.

“Now we just have to make sure we try to get better every single time we come to the rink. We know what it’s all about in the playoffs. Hopefully, we have a really fun run.”

Pittsburgh could be without a significant player against the Capitals. Winger Phil Kessel, who has played in 689 consecutive games and ranks among the league leaders with 87 points, left in the third period of Saturday’s game because of an unspecified injury.