The Hunt For 51 – Washington’s bid to set an all-time franchise record by recording its 51st win of the season on Saturday in Florida fell short. Alex Ovechkin’s 56th goal of the season tied the game late in the third at 4-4, but some defensive breakdowns enabled the Panthers to net a pair of goals just eight seconds apart soon after Ovechkin’s goal. An empty-netter sealed the deal as the Cats sent the Caps to a 7-4 setback.
Saturday’s loss was the only one Washington suffered in the state of Florida this season. The Caps finished up 5-1 in the state of Florida. The Caps and Cats split their six-game season series down the middle at 3-3, with each team winning two games in the other team’s building.
Washington’s 50-24-8 regular season record is good for 108 points, most in franchise history and second most in the Eastern Conference this season. The Caps will set out in pursuit of their first Stanley Cup championship this week when the take on the New York Rangers in an Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.
Nick At Night – Caps center Nicklas Backstrom picked up a pair of assists on Saturday, giving him 66 on the season and 121 for his two-season NHL career. Backstrom’s 66-assist campaign is third best on Washington’s all-time single season list, trailing only Dennis Maruk (76 assists in 1981-82) and Adam Oates (69 helpers in 2000-01).
With 121 assists in his first two seasons, Backstrom has tied fellow Swede Peter Forsberg for eighth place in most total assists in the first two seasons of an NHL career. Kent Nilsson holds the all-time mark for most assists by a Swede in the first two seasons of an NHL career with 135.
Backstrom also became the first Capital in franchise history to play in every single game over his first two seasons in the league. Ovechkin came the closest among all previous Caps; he missed just one game during his first two seasons in the league.
Hot Stick – Caps center Brooks Laich joined Backstrom as one of only two players to play in all 82 games for the Capitals this season. Laich scored the game’s first goal on Saturday, his 23rd of the season. Over the last few weeks, Laich as had one of the hottest sticks on the team.
Laich had five goals and a dozen points in the season’s final eight games. He finished with single season career highs in goals, assists (30) and points (53).
Ovi Watch – Ovechkin finished the regular season with 110 points (56 goals, 54 assists), second in the NHL behind fellow Russian Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Malkin had 113 points.
Ovechkin did win a second consecutive Maurice Richard Trophy with 56 goals, and his total of 528 shots on goal in 2008-09 is the second most ever in a single season in NHL history. Boston’s Phil Esposito holds the NHL standard of 550 shots on net in 1970-71.
Shutout Streak Stopped – The last time the Caps visited the Panthers in Florida, they held the Cats without a shot on goal for the entire third period as Jose Theodore recorded his second shutout of the season on March 17.
Before David Booth scored Florida’s first goal of the game on Saturday at 15:50 of first period, Theodore had blanked the Panthers for a span of 79:34 covering three games.
Defense Scoring – Caps blueliner Brian Pothier picked up an assist on Alexander Semin’s third period goal. It was the 151st point (45 goals, 106 assists) recorded by Washington blueliners this season. That’s the highest total registered in a single season by a group of Caps defensemen since the 1997-98 Washington blueline corps also recorded 151 points (42 goals, 109 assists).
Four Spot – For the seventh consecutive game, the Capitals scored four or more goals in a contest. It is Washington’s longest streak with four or more goals in a game since a seven-game run from March 11-25, 1993.
The last time Washington scored four or more goals in more than seven straight games was an 11-game run from Oct. 27-Nov. 22, 1991.
Twenty Between Tallies – The Caps scored 20 goals in between Ovechkin’s first period goal against Buffalo last Friday and his third period tally in Florida on Saturday. It’s the longest run of goals Washington had put together without a contribution from Ovechkin since the team netted 34 goals without one from No. 8 from Oct. 13 through Nov. 10 of this season.
Power Surge – Washington’s power play was 1-for-3 on the night. The Capitals finished the season with a power play success rate of 25.2%, the best in franchise history, and second in the NHL this season. Detroit – which has one game remaining – leads the league at 25.9%.
The Caps’ previous single-season best was the 23.9% clip established by the 1984-85 Capitals. The 2008-09 Capitals finished third in the NHL with a total of 85 power play goals. That figure is the most recorded by a Washington team since the 1992-93 edition established the franchise standard with 97 extra-man tallies in a season.
30 For Booth – Panthers winger David Booth netted his 30th goal of the season in the first period and added another tally in the third. He also chipped in with three assists to record the first five-point game of his NHL career.
Booth became the sixth player in Panthers history to reach the 30-goal plateau. He joins Olli Jokinen (four 30-goal seasons), Pavel Bure (two), and Scott Mellanby, Ray Whitney and Nathan Horton (one each) on that list.
Biting The Hand – Ex-Caps defenseman Steve Eminger bit the hand that once fed him when he scored the game-winning goal for Florida on Saturday night. Eminger, in the lineup for the first time since March 21, scored his first goal and recorded his first point as a member of the Panthers with that goal.
Eminger scored six goals in 212 games as a member of the Capitals. He now has five goals in 71 games since his departure from the District last summer. His game-winning goal on Saturday against Washington was the first of his NHL career.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears entered the evening in a tie for first place in the East Division with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Both teams started the night with 104 points.
Hosting the Philadelphia Phantoms at Giant Center on Saturday, the Bears jumped out to a 2-0 lead on a pair of Kyle Wilson goals, one in the first period on the power play and the other in the second at even strength early in the second. Francois Bouchard assisted on both Wilson goals, and Karl Alzner also collected a helper.
After the Phantoms halved the Hershey lead on a power play goal early in the second, the Bears’ Staffan Kronwall scored a third-period goal to restore Hershey’s two-goal lead. Philly netted a late power play strike to pull within one, but Michal Neuvirth’s 29-save efforts in goal led the Bears to a 3-2 win.
The triumph gave the Bears the East Division title and sealed a first-round playoff match-up against the rival Phantoms. Hershey closes out its regular season slate on Sunday when it hosts Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at Giant Center.
Down a level, the South Carolina Stingrays dropped a 5-3 decision to the Charlotte Checkers in Game 2 of the first round of the Kelly Cup playoffs. The Rays trail Charlotte 2-0 in the best-of-even series. Game 3 is Tuesday night at North Charleston Coliseum.
The Stingrays took a 1-0 lead on Pierre-Luc O’Brien’s first period goal but then surrendered five unanswered Charlotte strikes in a penalty-filled affair. The Checkers scored five times – including three times on the power play – in a span of just 8:29 to take a two-game series lead.
Nikita Kashirsky and Travis Morin scored for the Stingrays in the third to make it respectable. South Carolina netminder James Reimer stopped 36 of 41 shots in a losing effort.
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