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They may have clinched a playoff spot over the weekend, but the Caps came into tonight's game with their sights set on loftier goals than simply making it to the postseason. A win tonight would ensure them a spot no lower than third in the division, free from the wild card cluster of doom - but first they'd have to go through a desperate resident of that cluster in the Boston Bruins.
From the outset, the Caps looked to be locked in, jumping out to a two-goal lead before the first period was ten minutes old and frustrating the Bruins at every turn. And when a Boston player broke through? Braden Holtby was there, standing tall.
Check back for our full recap later, but first, here's tonight's Plus/Minus:
- Plus: The second line. Marcus Johansson, Nicklas Backstrom and Troy Brouwer put together a really solid game tonight, factoring in on all three goals and looking very strong in the offensive zone right from the start.
- Minus: The power play. What is usually the Caps' bread and butter came up empty tonight (albeit with just two opportunities and change), and on the second one in particular the Caps seemed to be playing with fire a bit, giving the Bruins a couple of shorthanded chances.
Ten more notes on the game:
- The Caps needed to get off to a strong start, not just because of their insane record when scoring first (although that's certainly part of it) but also because it's usually a good way to sap the confidence of a desperate team. They did that and then some, as John Carlson fired one past Tuukka Rask less than five minutes into the game. Just a great goal by Carlson, and an equally nice pass by Backstrom, who had his 360-degree vision working overtime to spot Carlson sneaking in at the right circle.
- A little less than three minutes later, it was another big shot from the blueline, this time with Matt Niskanen picking up his fourth of the year (and getting the fortunate bounce off a Bruins' defender in front of the net). And just like that, the Caps were up by two before the first period was halfway over.
- That was actually Carlson's first goal since 3/15, and Niskanen's first since 2/21; in fact, despite the production by the blueline of late (and all season) the last four goals by Caps' defensemen - and five of the last six - came off the stick of Mike Green.
- Just how good is Braden Holtby? He's put together a pretty magical season, but he seems to save a little special swagger for games against the Bruins. He had it again tonight, turning aside shot after shot en route to his ninth shutout of the season... and his third against the Bruins.
- The two-goal lead built by the Caps over the first ten minutes of the game was all the offense we'd see until the very late stages of the second period, when a couple of slick plays helped push the lead to three. First, Troy Brouwer won the board battle in the neutral zone and made a very nice pass up ice to Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov then made a ridiculous play, taking the puck around the net and leaving a perfectly placed drop pass for Johansson, who was driving the net in perfect position to tap it home.
- That goal, by the way, was Johansson's 20th goal of the season - the first time in his career that he's hit that mark. He becomes the third Cap to hit 20 goals this season (behind Troy Brouwer and, of course, Alex Ovechkin), with Joel Ward and Eric Fehr lurking at 19 with one game to go.
- Johansson also added an assist, giving him his ninth multipoint game of the season - and it was part of a big night all around for the second trio, as he, Backstrom and Brouwer all picked up a couple of points and factored in on all three goals. Strange but true: Backstrom's two assists tonight marked his first multi-point outing since March 15... against the Bruins.
- There was a lot of talk yesterday and today about the emergency callup of Stanislav Galiev, who has put together a breakout season down in Hershey and earned himself a spot in his first NHL game. The game he put together was a very pleasant surprise, as he picked up a nifty scoring chance and finished the night with the team's second-highest Corsi-for percentage. All in all, a really nice debut for the youngster.
- One benefit of taking an early lead (besides the obvious) is that it allowed Barry Trotz to just roll his lines, getting everyone into the game. No forward skated less than 9:56 (Galiev) or more than 19:49 (Backstrom), and the only players on the team to crack the 20-minute mark were Carlson and Brooks Orpik. It's little things like that, combined with the relaxed schedule between now and the start of the playoffs next week, that can keep a team's legs fresh for the postseason. We hope.
- The Bruins are, by nature, a bit of a chippy team (which may be an understatement but just go with it). But while the hit count ratcheted up a bit, there wasn't a whole lot of chippiness in this game overall, with just three penalties taken all game - and all three were taken by Boston. That's not to say it wasn't an entertaining game, but it perhaps lacked a bit of the feisty nature usually found in games between these two squads.
So it's official: the Caps cannot finish lower than third place, and are assured a date with either the New York Islanders or the Pittsburgh Penguins when the postseason festivities kick off next week. That's huge, as is the fact that they further strengthened their position in second place in the Metropolitan - unreal, considering that they were scrapping it out for a wild card spot just a few weeks ago.
And now, this (courtesy of @PeteBlackburn)...