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Caps, Pens excited for ‘playoff atmosphere in October’

There’s no shortage of storylines heading into tonight’s big Washington-Pittsburgh game at Verizon (NBCSN, 8 p.m. ET).

As always, there’s Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin.

There’s the Pens-turned-Caps -- Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik -- going up against their old team, and a Cap-turned-Pen, Eric Fehr, itching (but unable) to face his former club.

There’s also tremendous optimism in Washington, thanks to a 6-1-0 start, clashing with concern out of Pittsburgh, where the Penguins are just 4-4-0 and hamstrung by a sputtering offense.

Oh yeah, there’s also the fact both are expected to be in the thick of the Eastern Conference title chase this spring -- and could very well face each other come playoff time.

“It’s great for the game,” Jason Chimera said, per CSN Washington. “It almost is like a playoff atmosphere in October.”

“A lot of years, it’s been like this,” Nicklas Backstrom added. “Everybody’s been talking about it around here. There’s a little more excitement, I’d say it was like a playoff game.”

Both teams should be plenty fresh for tonight’s tilt. Pittsburgh hasn’t played since beating the Preds in Nashville on Saturday, and Washington has been off even longer -- since Friday, when it beat Edmonton 7-4 at Rexall.

As for the lines for tonight’s game, the Caps will roll with their usual units. Justin Williams missed Tuesday’s practice due to illness, but will skate in his regular spot on the second line with Backstrom and Marcus Johansson.

The rest:

Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-T.J. Oshie
Chimera-Jay Beagle-Tom Wilson
Brooks Laich-Chandler Stephenson-Andre Burakovsky

As for Pittsburgh, here’s what head coach Mike Johnston rolled out on Tuesday:

Pascal Dupuis-Crosby-Patric Hornqvist
David Perron-Evgeni Malkin-Phil Kessel
Chris Kunitz-Nick Bonino-Daniel Sprong
Sergei Plotnikov-Matt Cullen-Beau Bennett