NHL

Capitals-Blues Preview

The St. Louis Blues were 76 seconds away from falling out of contention for the top seed in the Western Conference before Vladimir Tarasenko decided not to let it happen.

The Washington Capitals secured the top spot in the East a long time ago, and that may have contributed to them entering their final two games looking to snap a season-high skid.

With plenty to gain in the regular season's final weekend, the Blues try for their fourth consecutive win over the visiting Capitals on Saturday night.

St. Louis (49-23-9) is riding an 8-1-0 stretch to keep the pressure on West-leading Dallas, which hosts Nashville in its final contest Saturday night. The teams have identical records, though the Stars have clinched the first tiebreaker.

The Blues' outside chance to finish atop the West, however, only exists because of Tarasenko's flurry Thursday at Chicago. He set a career high with his 38th goal to tie the game at 1 with 1:16 left, then delivered St. Louis' third straight victory 3:37 into overtime.

Tarasenko extended his point streak to seven and Brian Elliott made 24 saves to avoid his first loss in 13 starts.

''We want home ice the whole way,'' Elliott said. ''Obviously, Washington is going to win that. But in our conference, in our division there, if we can get that home-ice advantage, that's a big thing. Especially if we get past the first couple of series.''

The Blues have won five of six at home.

If it ends up with the top seed, St. Louis would meet Minnesota in the first round. Otherwise, it will be a rematch of last year's first-round series against the Blackhawks, won in six games by Chicago.

The Blues defeated Washington 4-0 on March 26 for their third consecutive win in the series. Tarasenko was among four St. Louis players who scored, while Jake Allen made 32 saves.

Elliott, expected to start Saturday, has gone 11-0-0 with a 1.84 goals-against average in his last 13, matching a team record for consecutive wins.

Washington (55-17-8) is mired in its longest losing streak of the season at 0-2-1. It's dropped five of seven, a stretch that began with the defeat to the Blues.

Marcus Johansson snapped an 18-game goal drought with two and Andre Burakovsky added one as part of a three-goal Washington rally Thursday, but Pittsburgh won 4-3 in overtime for its eighth straight victory.

After leading the league with 3.30 goals per game through 57 contests, Washington is in the bottom third with 2.39 over its last 23.

''The work ethic wasn't there, the execution - nothing was,'' goaltender Braden Holtby said. ''I don't know how we got to overtime, so it was a big challenge tonight going against the hottest team in the league, and hopefully, we realize that we're a lot better team than that and we need to work.''

Holtby made 31 saves but was denied in his second attempt to tie Martin Brodeur's single-season record of 48 wins. He sat out last month's game against the Blues, though he's won his two career starts against them with a 1.00 GAA.

Along with a motivated St. Louis team, the Capitals host an Anaheim club Sunday that could have a chance to win the Pacific Division.

"I think that's just what we need," Johansson said. "It's good for us to step it up a little bit and get into a little bit more of a playoff mode, I think, and try to come out with two big wins."

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