The Washington Capitals claim the Eastern Conference’s number two spot tonight with a 2-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes after
the Boston Bruins fell to the New York Islanders 4-2, and the Tampa Bay Lightning lost to the Ottawa Senators 2-1.
Coming into tonight’s game, the Caps annihilated the Edmonton Oilers 5-0, extending the current winning streak to six games. The victory over Edmonton put Washington in second place in the Eastern Conference with 86 points, but only two points ahead of the Lightning and one point over the Bruins.
Meanwhile, the Hurricanes were two points back of the eighth seed, having played two games fewer than the team that currently holds their desired spot, the New York Rangers. With the hunger to make the playoffs, the Hurricanes would be a tough matchup.
“Of course it’s pretty hard right now playing against teams who are leading,” said captain Alex Ovechkin. “And especially right now [they] are fighting for [a] playoff spot.”
Nonetheless, the Caps came out on top and finish 5-0 in the season series with the Carolina Hurricanes, but every game has been a hard one to win, and this one was no different.
“I thought we were a little lucky tonight, and they’re overdue to beat us,” Caps head coach Bruce Boudreau said about the Caps’ game play. “Sometimes it’s a great matchup and sometimes you’re like that’s not a team I want to play in the playoffs.”
“I didn’t think we were very sharp,” Boudreau continued, “They had 40 shots on goal and I think they carried the play to us and beating us to the puck.” Boudreau, though, gave his team credit for getting the win and the two points needed to establish their position. “We made the plays in the third period that you had to make to win, and that was it.”
Boudreau credits the defense for being able to hold the team up to win in these close games. “For the most part, our defense doesn’t get a lot of credit because they’re not flashy, other than Mike [Green] who’s not playing.” Boudreau noted the play of Dennis Wideman moving the puck efficiently and Scott Hannan’s natural mindset to stay at home in the defensive zone, along with the collective effort to block shots and stay fresh on the penalty kill as key parts to the success of Washington’s defense. Of course, goalie Braden Holtby remained strong, allowing only one goal after a 156:15 shutout streak after facing 41 shots tonight.
While their closest competition losing to the two worst teams in the Eastern Conference before tonight’s game, the Capitals had the toughest job of them all, which was to play against a desperate team fighting for the playoffs. Not to mention, the Hurricanes and the Capitals all went to one-goal games. However, a lot of the team believes that this type of play will benefit them in the long run.
“It’s kind of become a little bit of character builder for us this year,” said Caps’ forward Matt Hendricks about one-goal wins. In fact, the Caps have won the last 11 of 13 games by one goal. “Looking back over the past few years [in] Washington there hasn’t been a whole lot of adversity and guys are really coming out and playing and fighting to the end of the game and pulling out those one-goal games.” Hendricks added, “It’s a lot like playoff hockey right now.”
True testaments to Washington’s character and ability to play playoff-type hockey will come, starting Sunday in a noon matchup with the Chicago Blackhawks on national television. The Blackhawks are a team who, like Washington, seems to be more energized in this later portion of the season than they were to start. Chicago is 8-1-1 in their last 10 games and have 81 points, five points back of the Central Division-leading Detroit Red Wings. While the Hurricanes played the Caps tough, the Caps will have to bring more of their A-game to play in front of their home crowd against the Blackhawks.
Following the home game with the Hawks, the Capitals will go on another long road stretch of six games in 12 days. The talent of Washington’s opponents varies, as the opposition ranges from the Detroit Red Wings to the Ottawa Senators, but of course, long stretches of games away from home can wear on a team, and the Capitals hope to remain strong for the end of the regular season.