Photo credit: Evan Vucci
This is it. The Caps nipping at the heels of the division-leading Panthers, playing to deny them the clinch and maybe snatch their crown.
Jay Beagle scored early, trapping a Troy Brouwer shot with his rump and firing from the sweet spot. Alex Ovechkin got on the board in the second, crashing the net and converting Marcus Johansson’s rebound. Brooks Laich piled on with a sniper shot from the high slot after a long session in the offensive zone. Mikael Samuelsson was all alone in the Caps zone, breaking the shutout with a high wrister. The Cats made it a one-goal game via Ed Jovanovski’s deflect goal early in the third. Alex Semin made it a four-goal night with a minute left. Caps beat Panthers 4-2. We’re playoff-bound, baby!
- Michal Neuvirth is The Guy– err, at least he was until Marco Sturm collapsed on his knee. Mikey needed assistance to leave the ice. It’s a scary sight– a hyperextension injury would end his season and leave the Caps without either of their goalies.
- No penalty for Sturm on that, but an anonymous source at a high level of the administration did report seeing Greg Williams hand him a tenner during the intermission.
- On the other end of the ice, former Capitals goalie Jose Theodore had a rough night. This was his first game playing at Verizon Center against his old team, and Theo ended up serving succulent rebounds to his old teammates a few times. Four goals against on 24 shots.
- Jay Beagle has been a terrific surprise this spring. He’s been physical on the penalty kill, capable at grinding and drawing penalties, and — oh yeah– he scores now! Beags knows that which is a secret to no one: go to the net and good things happen.
- Also playing like a maniac: Matt Hendricks. Hendricks hit everything wearing skates, including the goalie one time. He may not be producing points, but the game is so much badder ass with him in it.
- Alex Ovechkin‘s ice time is curious. He’s already seen his average ice time fall by more than a minute this season (perhaps expected given his advanced years), but who would have thought that the Caps’ best player would get less ice than Matt Hendricks (for most of the game at least)? Is this another artifact of Dale Hunter’s precise line-matching?
- The Caps back-halfed the second period. Although they finished with 10 in the middle frame, the Caps hard nary a one before the five-minute mark (same story in the first period). For long spells, it feels like shooting just isn’t a priority for this team– which is mystifying for a team as skilled as this one and playing in a game as climactic as this one was.
- Maybe the problem isn’t about priority, but competence. The Capitals could scarcely effect a breakout in the game’s second half, and Florida had little trouble quelling them on neutral ice.
Once upon a time, the Caps enjoyed a three-goal lead in this game. It eroded a bit, but lasted. Whew!
Tonight’s was the CSN Washington’s last game covering the Capitals’ regular season. Joe Beninati, Craig Laughlin, and Al Koken. They’ll be back.
Elsewhere in the league, Buffalo’s big date with Philly went poorly. With that loss, Buffalo is eliminated, and the Capitals have locked up a postseason appearance. There’s just two matters remaining unresolved: at what spot and against which opponent?
We’ll find out on Saturday. If the Canes beat the Panthers in regulation and the Caps beat the Rangers, the Caps will play the Devils in the first round and win the Southeast banner for the fifth consecutive year. Plus, who knows what Ottawa will do?
If you’re the Rangers, and you’ve got the #1 slot all locked up, what do you do on Saturday? Play your star goalie and all your best guys? Try to win it with grinders… or do you tank it and let the Caps win so you can try to play the Panthers in the first round?
Alright, a little pressure is relieved for RMNB4. It’s no longer a playoffs-or-not thing, now it’s a division title-or-not thing. Sounds great. IS PARTY NOW.