February 5 vs. Boston Bruins at Verizon Center
Time: 12:30 pm TV: NBCSN Radio: 1500AM, 820AM, XM and Caps Radio Network Pre-Game: Two-Man Advantage at 10:30 a.m., John Walton’s one-on-one audio with Dale Hunter at 11 a.m., all on washingtoncaps.com.
Boston Bruins (32-16-2)
Washington Capitals (27-20-4)
In the last 19 days, the Capitals have played just one home game. That contest was a 5-3 win over the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins on Feb. 5. On Sunday afternoon, the Bruins provide the opposition for a second straight Capitals home game when they head back to the District for a Sunday Super Bowl matinee match.
Mathieu Perreault’s first NHL hat trick paved the way for that Washington win over the Bruins in Boston’s previous visit to the District on Jan. 24.
Washington returns home after a 1-1-1 road trip immediately following the NHL’s annual All-Star break. The Caps earned the lone win on the trip with a 3-0 whitewashing of the Canadiens in Montreal on Saturday afternoon. Caps goalie Tomas Vokoun made 30 saves to earn his 47th career NHL shutout and his first against the Canadiens, the team that drafted him in the ninth round (226th overall) of the 1994 NHL Entry Draft.
Vokoun played in just one game for the Canadiens, and it came nearly 15 years earlier. He gave up four goals in 20 minutes of work against the Flyers in a 9-5 Montreal loss to Philadelphia on Feb. 6, 1997. The Nashville Predators claimed Vokoun from Montreal in the expansion draft in the summer of 1998.
Now, after besting the last-place team in the Eastern Conference, the Caps take on one of the best in Boston.
“This league is so good,” says Vokoun. “Every game is the same. Lately actually, it was the other way. Usually when we play somebody like [Boston] we’re successful and then we struggle against teams we should beat and we don’t beat them.
“In this league, there are no easy games. Even [Saturday], the game was 1-0 for 50 minutes. It could have went either way. [Sunday] it’s not going to be any different. It’s going to be a tough game. You’ve got to play hard, you’ve got to be a little bit lucky and you’ve got to do the right things all the time if you want to win in this league. That really doesn’t change much if you play the last [place] team in the league or the first.”
Washington just finished up a stretch in which it played six of its last seven games on the road, going 3-2-2 in that span. Both of its two road wins during that span came at Montreal’s expense and both came by identical 3-0 scores.
Alex Ovechkin returned to the Caps’ lineup for the first time since Jan. 22 on Saturday after serving a three-game NHL suspension for a hit on Pittsburgh blueliner Zbynek Michalek. Ovechkin led Caps forwards with 19:57 in ice time on Saturday against the Canadiens. He had one shot on goal and did not register a point.
“It’s an emotional lift,” says Vokoun of having Ovechkin back. “We did decent without him; we went .500. It’s just an emotional lift for everybody. Hopefully, we’ll get more guys back soon. We need to make a push. We’re not anywhere near where we want to be. Being outside the playoffs, it’s not a good situation.”
Saturday’s win moved the Capitals to within a point of first-place Florida in the Southeast Division. The Caps are in ninth place in the Eastern Conference standings, 11 points from the top of the charts and 11 points from the basement.
“Coming off the two divisional games we just had where we obviously didn’t have our best effort and lost both,” says Caps defenseman Dennis Wideman, “I think this weekend is huge for us. We’ve got to come out with another win [Sunday].”
Sunday’s game against the Bruins opens a three-game homestand for the Caps. Washington is 18-6-1 on home ice this season.
“It’s a back-to-back night and we feel we’ve got a lot of momentum going into [Sunday], says Caps forward Matt Hendricks. “We know what the opponent has under their belt. They’re a great team with great goaltending, and they’re the defending Stanley Cup champions. We look forward to that game, too.”
Boston comes to town on Sunday on the heels of a 2-1 home ice loss to the Penguins on Saturday afternoon. The B’s fell behind 2-0 early in the third and closed to within one on a tally by ex-Caps defenseman Joe Corvo. Boston outshot the Penguins 29-28 in the game, but 20 of the Bruins’ 29 shots on net came from defensemen.
Carolina blanked Boston 3-0 on Thursday, so the Bruins have scored just once in their last two games.
The Bruins have gone 10 straight games now without entering the third period with a lead. Boston is 4-5-1 in those 10 games.
Boston holds a relatively comfortable five-point lead over second-place Ottawa in the NHL’s Northeast Division; the second-largest current bulge of any division leader in the league. The Bruins are three points behind the New York Rangers for the top spot in the Eastern Conference standings.
The B’s lead the NHL with an average of 3.42 goals per game and they rank fourth in the circuit with an average of just 2.18 goals against. Their power play is eighth in the NHL with a 19% success rate and their penalty killing corps is seventh with a kill rate of 85.2%.