One Season Over, Another Just Beginning – Both the Capitals and the New York Rangers had something to play for in Saturday night’s regular season finale for both teams. Washington needed a win to keep hope alive for its dim divisional title hopes, and the Rangers were seeking a win that would have secured the Presidents’ Trophy – awarded annually to the league’s top regular season club – for them.
The Caps didn’t get that divisional title and New York’s Presidents’ Trophy campaign will have to wait another year. But Washington took care of its business on the ice, coming away with a convincing 4-1 win over the top team in the Eastern Conference.
Washington roared out of the gates and scored on the game’s second shift when Alex Ovechkin netted his 38th goal of the season. The Caps added to their lead on Mathieu Perreault’s 16th goal of the season at 2:18, making it two tallies in as many shots on New York netminder Henrik Lundqvist. The Caps' first two goals of the game came on their first two shots of the night.
That would prove to be all the offense the Caps would need on this night, but Washington added a John Carlson power play goal late in the first and the first goal by Nicklas Backstrom since Dec. 30 in the second.
“It’s definitely one of the better starts that we’ve had,” says Caps right wing Troy Brouwer. “We were able to carry it into the second period. [The Rangers] were playing a little bit desperate trying to go for the Presidents’ Trophy in the third there. I like the way the guys played in the third. We held of their push and we got a couple chances.
“I like the way we were going to the net. I think all four of our goals were screens and Lundqvist had no chance on them.”
Braden Holtby’s 35-save efforts in the Washington nets ensured the win that lifted the Capitals to 10 games over the break-even point (42-32-8) for the first time this season.
“Anytime you get a lead like that on Henrik Lundqvist, you have to make it count,” says Holtby. “You don’t see that happen very often. We took advantage of it today, and the quick start was definitely the key.”
The Caps will take on the Boston Bruins in the first round of the NHL's Stanley Cup playoffs. Game 1 will be in Boston on Thursday night.
Nick At Night – Backstrom’s goal was his first since Dec. 30. He added an assist to notch his first two-point game since Jan. 3 and to record his first points since returning from a 40-game absence because of a concussion. Tonight marked Backstrom’s fourth game back in the lineup.
Backstrom skated 18:24 on the night to lead all Washington forwards. He logged 2:55 in power-play ice time, threw two hits and incurred a two-minute minor for roughing, a coincidental call in which he was sent to the penalty box along with New York’s Ryan Callahan.
Making It Happen – After enduring a potentially crippling 5-1 loss to Buffalo on March 27, the Caps yielded control of their own destiny and put themselves in a seemingly difficult spot with five games to go.
The Capitals steeled themselves after that setback, saying that they could still get in if they managed to win four of five the rest of the way. It wasn’t always pretty, but with tonight’s win over the Rangers, the Caps were true to their word. They won four of five, and they were within 1:03 of getting a point in the one game they lost during that span.
History, Made – For the first time in their 37 seasons in the NHL, the Capitals have three defensemen – Karl Alzner, John Carlson and Dennis Wideman – who have played in all of Washington’s games in the same season.
In those 37 seasons, the Caps have gotten a full season’s work out of a defenseman 23 times including the three this season.
Alzner and Carlson are just the fourth and fifth defensemen in franchise history to play in every game in a season in two consecutive campaigns and the first to do so in 20 years.
Calle Johansson (1990-91 and 1991-92) was the last Caps defenseman to play in every Washington game in consecutive seasons. He followed in the footsteps of Hockey Hall of Famers Rod Langway (1982-83 and 1983-84) and Scott Stevens (1987-88 and 1988-89) as the first three Washington blueliners to achieve that rare feat.
Six Pack – In addition to defensemen Alzner, Carlson and Wideman, the Capitals had three forwards who also played in all 82 of the team’s games this season. Troy Brouwer, Jason Chimera and Brooks Laich skated in all of Washington’s games this season.
The Caps have six players who have played in every game for the first time since 1983-84 when the Caps had a franchise record seven players who played in all 80 of the scheduled regular-season games that season.
Mike Gartner, Dave Christian, Bobby Carpenter, Craig Laughlin, Doug Jarvis, Glen Currie and Langway played in all 80 games for Washington in 1983-84.
Excruciating Extra-Man Work – Carlson’s power-play goal came on the only shot on goal the Capitals generated in their three extra-man opportunities that spanned a total of 5:27.
The Rangers actually managed more shots on net (three) while shorthanded during the same time span, and only a great backcheck from defenseman Dennis Wideman and strong pokecheck from Holtby kept the Rangers from netting a shorthanded goal or two.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears hosted the Syracuse Crunch on Saturday night at Giant Center in the middle match of a busy three-in-three weekend set of games. The Bears started the weekend with a 4-2 loss to the Baby Pens on Friday night in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
With Daren Machesney manning the nets for Hershey for the first time since the 2008-09 season and seeing AHL duty for the first time in 2011-12, the Bears dropped a 3-2 shootout decision to the Crunch on Saturday.
Hershey concludes the weekend with a Sunday afternoon game against the Connecticut Whale at Giant Center.
Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays are embroiled in a first-round Kelly Cup playoff series against South Division rival Gwinnett.
The Stingrays took the series opener last Tuesday at North Charleston Coliseum, taking a 3-0 win over the Gladiators behind the shutout netminding of Daren Machesney. The Stingrays dropped the second game on home ice on Wednesday as Gwinnett evened the series.
On Friday night, the series shifted to Gwinnett for Game 3. South Carolina prevailed by a 4-3 count in an epic, four-overtime game that stands as the second-longest contest in the league’s history. Zach Tarkir scored at 4:19 of the fourth overtime session to give the Stingrays the win and a 2-1 series lead. The contest was less than two minutes shy of the longest in league history when it finally ended.
South Carolina can close out the Gladiators on Sunday afternoon in Gwinnett when the two teams meet for Game 4.
By The Numbers – Dennis Wideman led the Caps with 23:39 in ice time … Backstrom led the Capitals with three shots on goal … Carlson led the Caps with three blocked shots … Alzner paced Washington with three hits.