If they're going to catch Philadelphia on Tuesday, they'll have to do it without Alex Ovechkin.
Washington's superstar sniper will miss seven to 10 days with a nagging injury, leaving the visiting Capitals with an uphill battle to pull even with the Flyers as the top two teams in the conference conclude their regular-season series.
Washington (42-21-10) has been the NHL's hottest team over the past month, but made a voluntary decision Monday that could make that momentum disappear. With Tuesday's visit to Philadelphia the team's lone game in a six-day stretch, coach Bruce Boudreau announced that Ovechkin would miss at least a week to get healthy heading toward the playoffs.
"He's been bothered by this nagging ailment for a couple of months," said Boudreau, who declined to discuss the nature of the injury. "We just thought we'd take care of it now. His body needs a little bit of rest. We thought this was a good time to rest his body for a week to two weeks so he's fresh come April."
Ovechkin's production certainly hasn't suffered. He's had at least a point in every game but one during the Capitals' 10-0-1 run, including a pair of assists Friday in a 3-0 win at New Jersey that temporarily pulled the Southeast Division leaders into a tie with the Flyers (44-19-8).
Perhaps most important during Washington's streak has been the play of goaltender Michal Neuvirth. He's 5-1-0 with a 1.73 goals-against average since Feb. 26, and earned his third shutout since Feb. 6 on Friday.
"He's making saves left and right and if he's doing that, we know we have a chance," former Flyer Mike Knuble -- who has four goals in four games -- said of Neuvirth. "He took a loss the other day in Detroit and he came back (Friday) and held us together."
Philadelphia, which has two games in hand on the Caps, took back its two-point edge Saturday. The Flyers blew a 2-0 lead at Dallas, but Ville Leino helped them escape with two points thanks to his goal in a 3-2 shootout victory.
Philadelphia clinched a playoff berth with the win, but after last season's trip to the Stanley Cup finals, coach Peter Laviolette acknowledged his team has loftier expectations.
"We've never talked about clinching a playoff berth, we've always talked about home ice, all rounds. Game 7 if it comes to that in our building," Laviolette told the NHL's official website. "That's why we continue to push."
A win Tuesday would give the Flyers the season series. After losing 3-2 in overtime on the road Nov. 7, Philadelphia responded with a 5-4 shootout victory in the nation's capital Nov. 20, and also won 3-2 at home Jan. 18.
Giroux is tied for third on the team with 23 goals -- trailing only Carter (33) and Danny Briere (31) -- and when he scores, Philadelphia is 17-1-3.
Ovechkin's absence means more pressure on Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom to produce, but against the Flyers they've done just that. Semin has five goals and six assists in his last six games in the series, while Backstrom has three goals and 13 assists in his last seven times facing Philadelphia.
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