And Then There Were Four – Washington jumped out to an early 3-0 lead over the Blue Jackets in Columbus on Saturday, and for a while, it looked like the Caps might be in for a rare laugher. In the end, the Capitals needed some stellar play from goaltender Jose Theodore to hold on for a 3-2 win in their penultimate road game of the regular season.
“That’s how the game went,” says Caps left wing Tomas Fleischmann. “We had a really good start. We should put them away in the first period and start of the second period, but we didn’t do that. They got a little life and they came back. It was a tough game in the end.”
Seven different Caps picked up a point each as Alexander Semin, Fleischmann and Mike Green scored first-period goals to stake the Caps to a wide lead in the first. But after Green’s 5-on-3 strike gave Washington a three-goal lead, Columbus came right back to score on the remainder of the Caps’ power play. Jackets’ winger Rick Nash – always a shorthanded thorn in Washington’s side – made the play to set up Antoine Vermette while the Jackets were a man down.
Washington was unable to finish any of its chances thereafter, and it relied on Theodore to bar the door the rest of the way. He was rock solid throughout, withstanding several strong scoring bids from in close and absorbing a few body blows, including a couple that resulted in goaltender interference calls against Columbus.
“We maybe played 40 minutes tonight when we needed to play 60,” says Green. If it wasn’t for Jose, it would have been a lot different game. He stood on his head for us, but that’s what we need from him.”
Theodore is now 18-0-3 in his last 22 appearances, dating back to Jan. 12.
With one week remaining in the 2009-10 regular season, the Capitals still have a busy week ahead. They have four games left, and need just one point – or one point not gained by San Jose – in order to nail down the first Presidents’ Trophy in franchise history.
The Caps will take Sunday off from the rigors of practice and the schedule before finishing up with four games in seven days.
“It’s been a rough stretch here with the amount of games,” says Green. “But I think coming into the playoffs it’s important that we stay focused and that we make sure we’re rested and we do the proper things off the ice. I’m sure Bruce will have a day off for us tomorrow.”
Boudreau had extremely kind words for Green’s Saturday night performance.
“He was fabulous,” says the Caps bench boss. “Mike Green was fabulous tonight, notwithstanding scoring the winning goal. I just thought every time on he was a force, defensively. Not necessarily offensively, but he was a force defensively. He just doesn’t get the recognition that he should defensively.”
Area 51 – Saturday’s win was Washington’s 51st of the season, setting a single-season franchise standard. Twice previously the Caps had recorded 50 wins in a season.
“It’s nice to set records,” says Boudreau. “It gives us a goal to shoot for next year. It’s nice to get the 51st win. We were stuck on 49 there for a while, so we get back-to-back [wins] so it’s good. But more significant is the fact that I thought Theo had a good game and for the most part we played fairly good defensively.”
Road Killers – The Caps also notched their 23rd road win of the season on Saturday in Columbus to etch another single-season record into the franchise’s all-time ledger. Washington won 22 road games thrice previously in its 35-season history.
Westward Conquerors – The Caps finished the 2009-10 regular season with a 10-5-3 record against Western Conference opponents. Washington earned more points against the West this season than did any other Eastern Conference club.
Stingy – In holding the Jackets to just two goals, the Caps have held opponents to two or fewer goals in consecutive games for the first time since before the Olympic break. Washington had gone 20 games without so much as that modest streak. The Caps put together a strong run of six straight games (Jan. 23-Feb. 2) with two or fewer goals against during the midst of their 14-game winning streak.
Fifty For Flash – Fleischmann’s goal gives him 50 points for the season. He is the sixth Capital to reach that milestone in 2009-10. With an assist tonight, winger Mike Knuble moves to within a point of the half-century mark. Washington has not had as many as seven players with 50 or more points since 2002-03.
Homecoming – Ex-Jacket Jason Chimera returned to Nationwide Arena to play against his former mates for the first time since the Dec. 28 deal that sent him to the District. Chimera skated 13:11 on the night, making the scoresheet with a third-period cross-checking minor.
“It was fun coming back playing here for the first time,” says Chimera. “I spent a long time here, had some really good years here and met a lot of nice people. It was really good to come back.”
He was the recipient of a nice round of applause from the local crowd when his named was announced in the starting lineup.
“The first shift was a little nerve-racking,” says Chimera of his return, “but then you get the legs under you and just go from there.”
Personal Bests – Semin’s goal was his 38th of the season, matching his single-season career best. Green’s goal gives him 74 points on the season, a single-season career best. Tyler Sloan picked up his fourth assist, matching his single-season best set in 2008-09.
Short Stuff – Nash did not record his first career shorthanded points in the NHL until his fourth season in the league (2006-07). But he seems to have developed a knack for hurting the Caps in shorthanded situations.
Nash has two shorthanded goals (including a 3-on-5 shorthanded tally) and a shorthanded assist in his last five games against the Caps. He has seven goals and 11 points in eight career games against the Capitals overall.
Southeast Slayers – Tonight’s loss to the Caps was the first regulation setback for the Jackets against a Southeast Division opponent in more than two years. Columbus had gone 14-0-2 in its previous 16 games against Southeast foes, dating back to a 5-2 loss to Florida on Nov. 21, 2007. That setback came the day before Boudreau was hired to coach the Capitals.
By The Numbers – Fleischmann won all four of his first-period draws and finished the night with six of eight (75%) … Eric Belanger won 11 of his 15 (73%) face-offs on the night … Washington got 11 of its 15 first-period shot attempts on goal. They went 7-for-18 in the second and 9-for-19 in the third. On the night, the Caps got 27 shots on net, had 11 tries blocked and they missed the net on 14 other bids. Alex Ovechkin had two shots on goal, four shots blocked and four that missed the net … Green, Shaone Morrisonn and Tyler Sloan each blocked three shots on the night to pace the Caps … Washington is 19-8-12 in one-goal games. The Caps are 32-7 in games decided by more than one goal ... Washington is 9-1-1 in the month of April under Boudreau.
Down On The Farm – The Hershey Bears made AHL history on Saturday night at Giant Center when they took down the Syracuse Crunch, 6-1. The win was Hershey’s 58th of the season, erasing the AHL standard of 57 set by the 1992-93 Binghamton Rangers from the books. Hershey also established an AHL standard with its 33rd home victory of the campaign.
Jay Beagle scored twice (his 15th and 16th goals of the season) to earn first-star honors and pace the Hershey attack. Boyd Kane (his 21st), Alexandre Giroux (his 45th), Zach Miskovic (his fifth) and Karl Alzner (his third) also scored for the Bears.
Michal Neuvirth made 16 stops in the Hershey nets to run his record to 15-6-0-0 on the season.
Also, it was announced on Saturday that Hershey will host the 2011 AHL All-Star Classic at Giant Center on Sunday, Jan. 30 and Monday, Jan. 31 as part of the league’s 75th anniversary celebration.
Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays visited Gwinnett on Saturday. The Rays dominated, outshooting the Gladiators 35-10 in a 3-0 whitewashing. Gregg Johnson, Derek Keller and Dylan Yeo scored to support the 10-save effort of Beau Erickson in the South Carolina cage.