If the Caps needed any extra motivation heading into Saturday night's game in Montreal, one look at the standings would probably do it. With a win in Boston earlier in the day, the New York Rangers gained their 86th and 87th points on the season, tying them with the Habs, who hold the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference (thanks to the tiebreaker). The significance there is two-fold - a Caps win would increase the likelihood that they catch the Flyers atop the Conference while at the same time improving the chances that the Canadiens fall to seventh. The bottom line being that if the Caps do end up second in the Conference, they'll want to avoid a first-round match-up with the Rangers, who have given them all sorts of trouble this season. And, as we all know from recent history, seedings don't matter come the NHL's second season - match-ups do.
So how'd the Caps fare in Bruce Boudreau's 14th Hockey Night in Canada appearance behind the bench? A dominating defensive performance, a couple of timely tallies and two points. See you next month, Montreal?
Ten more notes on the game:
- And you thought Gabby's decision as to which goalie to start in Game 1 of the playoffs was a tough one before tonight? The Caps coach's plan to split starts down the stretch pretty evenly between Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth hit a snag when Neuvirth was unable to go in either game this weekend. Varlamov's start got bumped up to Friday night in Ottawa and Braden Holtby was recalled for Saturday night's start in Montreal. Varlamov was good. Holtby was as good as he had to be. He stopped all 18 shots he faced, nearly all of which came as he protected a 1-0 lead. So could Holtby be the Game 1 starter? That's still a longshot at this point... right?
- While Holtby will rightly get much of the credit for the win, he'd likely defer to the 18 skaters in front of him, who did a heck of a job from the neutral zone on back, limiting the Canadiens to those 18 shots on goal and blocking another 15. That's about as well as the Caps have executed their system, defensively, in weeks.
- Through his first dozen games in a Caps uniform, Marco Sturm had plenty of chances to score his first goal since January 15. On Saturday night, he finally did, cashing in on a Nicklas Backstrom rebound. With everyone healthy (from my keyboard to the hockey gods' monitors), Sturm is in a battle for a sweater come playoff time, so getting on the board (and adding an assist on the second goal) certainly helps his chances.
- Back to Backstrom, the Caps' pivot looked hungry all night, firing a season-high seven shots on goal (eight if you count Brian Gionta's save-of-the-game with the empty net behind him). Safe to say the thumb's feeling alright?
- More Backstrom: I think I could've scored the insurance tally that Alexander Semin potted. What a pass by Nick.
- One night after being dominated in the faceoff circle, the Caps turned in a strong night in the dot, winning 54% of the game's 65 draws, highlighted by Brooks Laich's 11-for-17 effort centering the third line.
- Know who's tougher than he ever gets credit for? Karl Alzner.
- Bonus Holtby nugget: he's now 3-0-0/1.00/.963 in Canada.
- The Caps' penalty kill had another solid night. The three penalties they had to kill? Less solid - Matt Hendricks holding in the neutral zone, Semin holding Hal Gill about as far from his own goal as possible, and Marcus Johansson flipping a puck off the rink.
- The power-play still stinks, going 0-for-4 with just four shots on goal. If there's one aspect of the Caps' game that desperately needs returns to health from Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green and Jason Arnott, that's it.
And so the Caps end their six-game road trip (which began and finished up with Holtby wins in Montreal) with a 4-2-0 record and head home to get healthy... and to get ready. It's just about go-time.