The Caps are playing for their playoff lives, something that is very unfamiliar for the majority of the guys, and after getting out to strong starts the previous two games and not being able to close it out, tonight they kept their foot on the pedal for the last 30 minutes on their way to a 3-0 win over the Minnesota Wild and right back into the top eight of the Eastern Conference.
“Every guy in the room is paying attention to what is going on around the league right now,” Caps veteran Mike Knuble said. “Felt good to vindicate ourselves…We showed up today for a game that was a must-win and we won it, so we leave here happy.”
But it wasn’t easy, as the Wild come off a hard loss last night in Buffalo and it was expected they wouldn’t have as much energy as usual to start the game, but the Caps, with a night off yesterday and in as close to a must-win game as you can have, you’d expect to come out flying. Well the majority of them didn’t, one guy who did though, Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin was all over the ice the entire game, including breaking up a Wild shorthanded bid in the first.
“It’s something that, [he] prides himself on it,” Capitals Head Coach Dale Hunter said. “It was a great slide, like he’s been playing “D” [defense] all his life.”
After being out shot 12-7 in the first, and coming off a devastating loss last game, the Caps needed to break through. Alexander Semin came through in the clutch starting a two-on-one and ending up curl-dragging the puck while dodging a Wild defenseman and finding Jason Chimera on the doorstep for a one-timer to give the Caps the lead and energy, both of which the Caps didn’t let go the rest of the game.
“He’s got great skill,” Hunter said on Semin. “We all know he has great skill. Just not shooting and stick-handling. He sees the ice well. And that was – he dragged it and put it through the guy’s stick. Not a lot of players could have did it.”
Only five minutes later, after a very questionable Clayton Stoner delay of game call, the Caps took full advantage of the ensuing power play. Alex Ovechkin found Troy Brouwer right at the blue line which started a two-on-one and Brouwer had a beautiful pass right to Mathieu Perreault who one-timed it in for the Caps second goal of the game.
Appropriately the man whose putting the team on his shoulders offensively and defensively, Alex Ovechkin, puts the game away. With 8:31 he rocketed one through to Wild players and in for his team high 36th of the year and ending any chance the Wild would stay in the game. Ovechkin has goals in five straight games and has nine goals in last seven games.
“Well, nothing. Just the puck goes in.” Ovechkin said on his recent play. “I think today, I think probably like, two years ago, I have kind of trust in how I play. I play every third shift almost every game, all game. I feel pretty good. I feel sharp when I wasn’t in the game. I was fresh and you know, it’s good for me. Again, it just goes in. Sometimes I have opportunities with the puck, and maybe they block it or goalie makes save, but right now, it’s just going in.”
When Ovechkin is going, the players notice what a difference it makes.
“It’s night and day,” Knuble said. “When he’s going, our record is – I don’t know what it is when he scores a goal, but I’m sure it’s a lot better than when he doesn’t, and significantly better. We’re happy; all the guys are happy things are going well for him because that means we’re all going to do well too.”
Ovechkin played a Caps high of 26:19 of ice time. He played so much because with Joel Ward out (lower body injury), the Caps decided to go with seven defenseman. Dmitry Orlov was back in the line up and Jeff Halpern was scratched. Ovechkin was actually on two different forward lines tonight.
“Last game there I thought fatigue factor and with seven “D” it gives them all a break,” Hunter said on his decision to go with seven defenseman. “Not one individual is playing as much. So that’s basically what it was for the defense. And I knew I was going to play Ovi more tonight.
“Yeah, it’s nice. Shutouts are nice for the stat sheet, but they don’t always show exactly what happened,” Holtby said. “I got lucky on a couple occasions there, and our team played [well]. Really, if you look at Ovi’s [Ovechkin] play on the two-on-one, that’s a huge play for a scoring chance, and Wides [Wideman]- came up huge again once on the rebound off the two-on-one on Heatley in the slot, so that’s two goals if Wides and Ovi don’t make those plays. It’s two goals against us and not a shutout. It’s a nice stat for a goalie, but it’s really a team stat.”
Holtby had 28 saves for his second win of the season.
“I’m really happy with him,” Hunter said on Holtby. “He’s a battler. You see him handle the puck. I think he really helps our “D” a lot making decisions. It’s always a risk-reward thing when the goalies leave their net, but he does it very well.”
The Caps, who only have six games left, are currently in the eighth and final playoff spot in the East and have their biggest game of the season, so far, on Tuesday hosting the Buffalo Sabres.
“Buffalo took the lead on us there [Saturday] night with their win, so we knew we needed to win to keep pace with them,” Caps defenseman Dennis Wideman said. “They’re coming on really strong and we obviously wanted to be tied with them going into the big game on Tuesday.
The Sabres, who are 7-1-2 in their last ten games, have the same amount of points and games played as the Caps do as they duel it out for the last playoff spot in the East.
“It sets it up – it’s the battle between us and we’re battling each other,” Hunter said on the big game Tuesday. “It’s definitely like the seventh game in the playoffs.”
Listen here to what Dale Hunter, Alex Ovechkin, Mike Knuble, Braden Holtby, Dennis Wideman & Mathieu Perreault said following the win.
2nd 10:09 Chimera (19), Semin (30)
2nd 15:15 PP Perreault (14), Brouwer (14), Ovechkin (25)
3rd 8:31 Ovechkin (36), Johansson (29), Carlson (23)
Dale Hunter Postgame Audio
Alex Ovechkin Postgame Audio
Mike Knuble Postgame Audio
Braden Holtby Postgame Audio
Dennis Wideman Postgame Audio
Mathieu Perreault Postgame Audio