(Sports Network) - The Washington Capitals and New York Rangers are probably happy enough with their postseason berths, but the clubs both still have something to play for this afternoon should they choose.
The Capitals are still in the running for their fifth straight division title and look to do their part to secure the honor this evening against a Rangers club that can claim the top spot in the overall NHL standings.
Washington finally clinched a spot in the playoffs with Thursday's 4-2 win over Florida coupled with Buffalo's setback to Philadelphia. The Capitals' win over the Southeast Division-leading Panthers also kept the club alive in the race for that crown as they trail Florida by just two points and hold the tiebreaker between the teams with six more non-shootout wins.
The Caps can win the division with a victory in this game and a regulation loss by the Panthers tonight against the visiting Hurricanes. That would move Washington from the eighth seed to the third and give it home-ice advantage in the postseason's first round.
If Washington stays in eighth place, it would open the first round of the postseason against New York. However, the Capitals could also move up to seventh with a win and a regulation loss by Ottawa in New Jersey this afternoon should they fail to overtake the Panthers.
The Caps scored the first three goals in their meeting with the Panthers on Thursday before holding on for the two-goal win. Brooks Laich had a goal and an assist, while Alex Ovechkin, Jay Beagle and Alexander Semin also lit the lamp in Washington's third victory in its past four games.
"You always want to go in the playoffs winning your last game," Beagle said. "We need to go in there [New York] and play our game like we did tonight."
Washington, though, will be without its top two goaltenders in Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth. Vokoun is out with a strained groin, while Neuvirth left Thursday's win with an apparent left leg injury.
Braden Holtby. who made 12 saves on 14 shots versus the Panthers, will start tonight's finale and Dany Sabourin was recalled from Washington's AHL affiliate in Hershey to serve as the backup. . The Rangers have already clinched the first seed and home-ice throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs, but are in the running for their third Presidents' Trophy as the league-leader in points and first since their Stanley Cup-winning season in 1993-94.
New York's 109 points is tied with the Canucks for the most in the NHL, with the Rangers holding the tiebreaker. Vancouver hosts the lowly Edmonton Oilers tonight in its regular-season finale.
New York is coming off only its third loss in eight games on Thursday, losing a 5-2 decision to Pittsburgh. Not only did the Rangers lose the game, but forward Derek Stepan suffered an undisclosed injury after taking a knee-to- knee hit from Pittsburgh's Brooks Orpik with 4:39 left in the game.
Orpik was hit with a five-minute major and Rangers head coach John Tortorella fueled the fire of any potential playoff meeting between the Blueshirts and Penguins with some choice words for the organization.
"It's a cheap, dirty hit," said Tortorella. "I wonder what would happen if we did this to their two whining stars (Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin) over there. I wonder what would happen, so I'm anxious to see what happens with the league with this. Just no respect amongst players, none. It's sickening.
"It's one of the most arrogant organizations in the league. They whine about this stuff all the time and look what happens. But they'll whine about something else over there, won't they?"
Stepan, who has a career-high 51 points and has not missed a game over his brief two-year career, did not practice on Friday.
Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov supplied the goals for the Rangers versus the Pens, while Martin Biron stopped 27 shots in his 500th career game. Tortorella opted to rest No. 1 goaltender Henrik Lundqvist after he suffered an arm injury in a victory over the Flyers on Tuesday.
New York has won five of its past six versus Washington, including two in a row as the host.