Games have been important for the Capitals for a while now, but with each missed opportunity to inch back up the standings, the magnitude of each contest grows.

In the final contest of a five-game homestand that has brought insufficient results – only three points in the first four games – Washington hosts 11th-place Tampa Bay (68 points) tonight.

The Lightning sit only two points behind ninth-place Washington despite being a seller at the trade deadline and parting ways with the likes of Pavel Kubina and Steve Downie. Tampa Bay is also without captain Vincent Lecavalier (broken hand) but led by the efforts of Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Teddy Purcell it has won four of its past five heading into this meeting at Verizon Center.

For the Capitals, who trail Winnipeg in the final playoff spot by two entering tonight’s game, a win would provide the opportunity to move up, depending on the result of Jets’ late game in Vancouver. But a loss in any form would result in the Lightning jumping ahead of them. A loss in regulation, would allow Tampa Bay to tie the Capitals in points, but they would remain ahead because of one more win in regulation. A loss in overtime or a shootout would leave Washington with a one-point lead over the Lightning.

“It’s a playoff game again. You see where it’s kind of a playoff atmosphere on the ice,” Coach Dale Hunter said of the importance of tonight’s contest against Tampa Bay. “It’s a must win for both teams.”

Said Mike Green: “We’ve got to treat this like it’s do or die.”

A note for those scoreboard watching tonight, here are the three games that will impact the Capitals the most: Buffalo at Boston, Florida at Philadelphia, Winnipeg at Vancouver.

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