Series (Game 4 of 4)

Washington leads 4-0

Game 1: Thursday, January 21st
Game 2: Sunday, February 7th
Game 3: Wednesday, March 24th
Game 4: Tuesday, April 6th

Capitals 6

(53-15-12, 118 pts)

Penguins 3

(45-27-7, 97 pts)

Coverage: NBCSN

7:30 PM ET, April 6, 2010

Mellon Arena, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

1 2 3 T
WSH 1 3 26
PIT 0 2 13

A. Semin (Capitals - RW): Goals: 1, Assists: 1

N. Backstrom (Capitals - C): Goals: 0, Assists: 3

J. Leopold (Penguins - D): Goals: 2, Assists: 0

Capitals-Penguins Preview


Timely returns by Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar were just what the Pittsburgh Penguins needed to rebound from a dismal loss and keep pace atop the Atlantic Division.

Now, the duo will try to help the Penguins avoid their first season series sweep at the hands of the NHL-leading Washington Capitals on Tuesday night at Mellon Arena.

Already assured of reaching the playoffs, Pittsburgh (45-26-7) is tied with New Jersey for first place in the Atlantic with four games to play. The Devils, who hold the tiebreaker, visit Atlanta on Tuesday.

Both clubs have one more point than Northeast-leading Buffalo, which is third in the conference.

Seeking their second division crown in three seasons, the Penguins face the last-place New York Islanders twice with a visit to the Thrashers in between.

Malkin and Gonchar, who both returned Saturday, could prove pivotal in the final six days of the season. They each had one goal and one assist before Jordan Leopold found the back of the net with 1:10 left in overtime to clinch a 4-3 home win over Atlanta.

Malkin -- the 2009 Conn Smythe Trophy winner -- had missed five consecutive games and seven of eight with a bruised right foot, while Gonchar was out for four games with strep throat before forcing the extra session with 1:14 left in regulation Saturday. Their returns came three nights after the Penguins fell 2-0 to Tampa Bay.

"It's great to have them back," said center Sidney Crosby, who had three assists against the Thrashers after being held off the scoresheet by the Lightning. "Obviously for them to miss some time like they did and come back and play the way they did, and make an impact right away, that's huge for us."

Crosby is also coming up big. He has two goals and seven assists in his last five games, and leads the NHL with a career-high 47 goals -- one more than Washington's Alex Ovechkin and Steve Stamkos of Tampa Bay.

A late-season surge from Crosby, aided by the returns of Malkin and Gonchar, could be just what the Penguins need to win the Atlantic and avoid a potential matchup with Washington (52-15-12) in the East semifinals.

The Penguins have lost six of seven to the Capitals, including all three meetings in 2009-10, to put them in danger of getting swept in this season series for the first time. However, Pittsburgh has won seven of eight playoff series against Washington, including last year's conference semifinals en route to the Stanley Cup title.

Malkin and Crosby combined for 10 goals and 13 assists in the seven-game series last spring.

The Capitals, who have already clinched their first Presidents' Trophy, appear to be using the final week of the regular season to stay sharp while deciding who will be the starting goaltender in the playoffs.

Coach Bruce Boudreau said he won't announce the No. 1 netminder until just before the opening game of the postseason.

Jose Theodore made a case for the job Monday, making 28 saves at home against Boston in a possible first-round preview. The Capitals won 3-2 when Brooks Laich scored 44 seconds into overtime.

Despite going 19-0-3 in his last 23 games, Theodore's status as Washington's starter is far from secure. He's competing with Semyon Varlamov, who displaced Theodore during last year's playoffs.

Varlamov, who will turn 22 later this month, has never faced the Penguins in the regular season. He posted a 3.74 GAA against them while starting all seven games last May.

Theodore is 7-0-1 with a 2.81 GAA in his last eight starts against Pittsburgh.