Southeast Supremacy – The Caps took a 3-2 shootout decision from the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Tuesday to clinch their fourth consecutive Southeast Division crown. That matches San Jose for the longest current streak of its kind in the NHL.
With the win, Washington also pushed past the Flyers into the top spot in the Eastern Conference standings. With two games remaining for both teams, the Capitals hold a two-point edge over Philadelphia for first place in the conference.
The Capitals played a strong game and were very efficient at moving the puck up the ice and into the attack zone. They forechecked well and spent a great deal of time in the attack zone pouring shots on rookie Toronto goalkeeper James Reimer, who was almost single-handedly responsible for his team earning a point.
“He’s obviously pretty good,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau of Reimer. “Taking nothing away from the way the Leafs have played in the last month and a half, but he was a big difference maker I thought today. We had some 10-bell chances and he rose to the task. I think the Leafs have got a good goalie there.”
Washington outshot the Leafs 41-21 on the night.
“I thought we played well,” says Boudreau. “You’re not going to go through a game without the other team having scoring chances, but overall I thought we did really well. We got pucks out, we had [scoring] chances.”
Washington now has a total of seven division titles in its 36-season history. The Capitals claimed the Patrick Division crown for the 1988-89 season and took the Southeast in 1999-00 and 2000-01.
The 300 Club –Alex Ovechkin’s first-period power play goal was the 300th of his NHL career. He joins Peter Bondra (472) and Mike Gartner (397) as just the third player in Caps history to record 300 of more goals in a Washington sweater.
“It feels good,” says Ovechkin of his milestone marker. “When you score 300 goals in six years, it’s a big accomplishment. I play for a great team and my partners give me sometimes unbelievable chances to score goals. Without them, I don’t score those goals.”
With 300 goals prior to his 26th birthday (25 years, 200 days), Ovechkin is the sixth youngest player in NHL history to reach that milestone. The only five players to score 300 goals at a younger age are: Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Dale Hawerchuk, Mike Bossy and Steve Yzerman. All five of those players are now members of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Scoring No. 300 in his 473rd career game in the league, Ovechkin becomes the seventh-fastest to do so in terms of games played. He trails Gretzky, Lemieux, Brett Hull, Bossy, Jari Kurri and Teemu Selanne on that ledger.
Ovechkin has 31 goals on the season, the sixth consecutive season in which he has reached that plateau. Gartner holds the franchise record with nine 30-goal seasons.
Overtime Pay – Tonight’s game marks the fourth consecutive overtime contest for the Capitals and their 25th of the season, establishing a franchise record for most overtime games in a single campaign. The Caps had 24 overtime tilts in 2009-10.
Washington is 14-11 in games requiring more than 60 minutes this season. The Caps are 8-1 in their last nine games that have gone past the 60-minute mark.
Net Man – Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth started his third consecutive game on Tuesday. He has also started six of the Caps’ last nine games and is the odds-on favorite to earn the starting nod for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Series next week.
Neuvirth has now won five straight decisions for the first time in his NHL career, and he is 9-1 with a 2.26 GAA and a .923 save pct. in his last 11 starts.
“That was a tough game,” sighs Neuvirth after seeing just 21 shots against Toronto. “I wasn’t facing a lot of shots. I got a little unlucky on the first goal. I felt pretty good. I stayed with it. I was trying to stay focused the whole time. I think it’s a big two points for us.”
Toronto has not been an easy opponent for Neuvirth during his brief NHL career. He entered Tuesday’s game with a 1-1-1 lifetime mark to go along with a bloated 4.42 GAA and an .848 save pct. in four career appearances (three starts) against the Leafs.
“When the game is on the line, he’s pretty good,” says Boudreau of Neuvirth. “When the game is on the line, he’s pretty good. The first goal was deflected again. I was starting to feel bad for him. And then the other goal he couldn’t do anything about. [Jeff Schultz] should have had the guy. When [Joey] Crabb had that shot in the third period and they had some really good opportunities, he stood his ground and he did a really good job of controlling rebounds.”
Career Year – Returning to the lineup after a one-game absence because of injury, Caps defenseman John Erskine scored his fourth goal of the season and his first since Nov. 26 against Tampa Bay.
Erskine has played a career-high 71 games this season. The four goals doubles his previous single-season best of two, and matches the total of four goals he had in 182 career games with the Capitals coming into this season.
Erskine has also matched his single-season high in assists (seven) and has established a single-season best in points (11).
Oh, Canada! – The Caps concluded the 2010-11 season with an 11-2-2 record against Canadian teams. Washington was 6-1 in games played north of the border. The Capitals outscored their Canadian foes by a combined 49-30 in those 15 games.
Powering Up – Ovechkin’s power play goal gave the Caps three power play goals in as many power play chances. They scored on each of two extra-man chances in Saturday’s 5-4 win over the Buffalo Sabres.
“I think the last three or four games our power play is looking really good,” says Boudreau. “If we can continue this in the playoffs it will be a big bonus for us.”
Two-Man Time – Ovechkin’s power play goal came during a 20-second window during which Washington enjoyed a two-man advantage. The Caps had gone nine straight two-man advantage chances without scoring a goal before Tuesday.
Ovechkin’s goal was Washington’s fourth in 17 chances with the two-man advantage this season and its first since Alexander Semin tallied against Tampa Bay on Nov. 26. The Capitals have surrendered four goals in 16 two-man advantage opportunities.
Raking The Leafs – Ovechkin now has 23 goals and 39 points in 23 career contests against the Maple Leafs. That represents Ovechkin’s highest goal and point total against any non-Southeast Division opponent.
Ovechkin also seems to relish playing at Air Canada Centre. He now has 14 goals and 18 points in just a dozen career contests at the Maple Leafs’ home barn.
Funeral – The Leafs’ valiant but late charge for a playoff berth died a mathematical death on Tuesday when the Buffalo Sabres downed the Tampa Bay Lightning, 4-2. Toronto is 18-7-6 since the NHL’s All-Star break in late January, but it wasn’t enough to dig out of a deep early season hole.
“They looked a little mentally tired,” says Boudreau of the Leafs. “It’s hard hanging on and hanging on and hanging on. I thought as the game wore on we kept getting it deep and wearing them down a little bit.”
Toronto has now missed the playoffs for six straight seasons, the longest postseason drought in the franchise’s storied history.
30-30-30? – Nikolai Kulemin netted his 30th goal of the season for the Leafs on a first-period power play. He joined Phil Kessel as the second Maple Leaf to reach that plateau this season. Toronto forward Mikhail Grabovski has 29 goals, and if he is able to net one more in the season’s final two games, he will give the Leafs their first trio of 30-goal getters since 1995-96.
During that 1995-96 season, Mike Gartner (35), Mats Sundin (33) and Doug Gilmour (32) all scored 30-plus goals for the Maple Leafs.
Gartner had 17, Sundin had 13 and Gilmour four seasons with 30 or more goals during their respective NHL careers.
Kessel has had three 30-goal seasons in the NHL. This is Kulemin’s first 30-goal campaign and Grabovski is also bidding for his first.
No-Hitter – Grabovski was the lone Leaf not credited with a hit in Tuesday’s game. The other 17 Toronto skaters combined for 50 hits to Washington’s 25.
One reason the Leafs had so many hits was because the Caps spent most of the game with possession of the puck. Washington teed up 78 shots on the night, getting 41 on goal, having 18 blocked and missing the net with 19. Toronto tried 48 shots, getting 21 on net, having 18 blocked and missing nine times.
Ovechkin accounted for 17 of Washington’s shot tries in his 23:36 of work on the night. He got seven on net, had four blocked and missed half a dozen times.
By The Numbers – The Caps finished the season with a 13-4-3 mark against the Northeast Division. Toronto finished up with a 7-9-4 record against Southeast Division opponents … Washington is now 4-0-0 in games in which Erskine scores a goal … Scott Hannan paced the Capitals with 26:12 in ice time. He logged 25:09 at even strength to lead all skaters on both sides … The Leafs were charged with 22 giveaways to the Capitals’ seven … Ovechkin, Bradley and Erskine tied for the Caps’ team lead with four hits each … Hannan, Schultz and John Carlson tied for the Caps’ team lead with three blocked shots each.
1 - 0 TOR
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 TOR