The Capitals can clinch a playoff berth tonight if they defeat the Devils and the Hurricanes lose in regulation to the Islanders. That set of circumstances would give Washington a 20-point lead in the standings on Carolina, who would have only 10 games remaining in the regular season. Even if the Hurricanes were to win out and the Capitals did not win again before the postseason, Washington would still hold the tie-breakers.

The first part of clinching that postseason trip, though, requires the Capitals to defeat a very different Devils team than the one they faced three previous times this year. Washington hasn’t played New Jersey since Jacques Lemaire took over as coach in late December or since the Devils have put together a 23-4-2 run in the second half of the season.

“It looks like they believe again,” Coach Bruce Boudreau said about the Devils. “The first three games, they beat us 5-0 here and we looked pretty bad, but the two games at home it just looked like they were in disarray. Now they’re compact, disciplined, they know what they’re doing and they’re on a mission. It’s a team that if you don’t have 20 guys playing as hard as you can, you’re not going to have a lot of success.”

Carolina is 2-0-0 in its first two meetings against the Islanders so far this season and are 18-12-4 when playing at home in RBC Center.