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NHL Prediction: Washington Capitals vs Philadelphia Flyers (3/22/12)

Earlier this month in the nation’s capital, Washington’s Alex Ovechkin repeatedly shot the puck at Philadelphia goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, but his Russian compatriot stopped every one of them. The two time league MVP was slumping at that time, but has regained his scoring touch.

Bryzgalov, meanwhile, has been stellar between the pipes all month.

Coming off his second two-goal game in a week, Ovechkin and the Capitals conclude a five-game road trip Thursday night against Bryzgalov and the Flyers.

Washington (37-30-6) is vying for one of the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spots and still hopes to catch first-place Florida in the Southeast Division. Making a fifth straight postseason appearance could come down to Ovechkin’s play over the final nine games.

Ovechkin scored twice in Monday’s 5-3 win over slumping Detroit, his second two goal game in four contests. He has five goals in the last four after tallying four in his previous 14 games.

That’s certainly true, as the Capitals are 18-5-2 when Ovechkin scores but 18-23-3 when he doesn’t.

Ovechkin had plenty of scoring opportunities against Philadelphia (42-23-8) on March 4, but Bryzgalov stopped all seven of his shots. Bryzgalov finished with 34 saves in the Flyers’ 1-0 win, while Eric Wellwood scored the lone goal 47 seconds after coach Peter Laviolette took a second-period timeout.

Bryzgalov’s blanking of the Capitals was his first of four shutouts this month for the Flyers, who are in fifth place in the East with 92 points – four behind Pittsburgh. He is 8-1-1 with a 1.27 goals-against average in March after falling for the first time in regulation with Tuesday’s 2-1 loss to Florida.

The Flyers outshot the Panthers 36-13, but only Wellwood found the back of the net. Philadelphia also went 0 for 4 on the power play and is 2 for 19 with the man advantage in the last seven games.

The Flyers also may need to be concerned with slow starts after falling behind 2-0 in each of their last three games. The Capitals trailed 2-0 in the first period in Sunday’s 5-2 loss to Chicago, but responded by taking a 3-0 lead 15 minutes into Monday’s win.

With Tomas Vokoun nursing a groin injury, Braden Holtby made his second start of the season Monday and stopped 30 shots.

Michal Neuvirth, who has allowed four goals in each of his last two starts after shutting out Toronto on March 11, could get the call in Philadelphia. He stopped 22 shots against the Flyers earlier this month.

Bryzgalov has started all three games against the Capitals this season, stopping 65 of 66 shots in winning the last two after making 23 saves in a 5-2 home loss Oct. 20.

Ovechkin scored twice in that win, and has six goals in his last four games in Philadelphia.

STARTING GOALIES:

Washington Capitals – Brayden Holtby

Philadelphia Flyers – Ilya Bryzgalov

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