Beninati: Division gets done

Beninati: Division gets done
April 6, 2011, 7:34 am
Share This Post

Wednesday, April 6, 2011 1:56 a.m.


By Joe Beninati

TORONTO -- The Capitals disposed of a pesky Toronto squad to clinch their fourth straight Southeast Division title Tuesday night. Continuing to play exceptional hockey on the road, Washingtons win coupled with Tampa Bays loss in Buffalo finished off the race inside the division.

The shootout victory inside Air Canada Centre spoiled an otherwise brilliant goaltending performance from Maple Leafs target James Reimer. Ron Wilson says Reimer reminds him of Olie Kolzig because of his fiery intensity, and he was really tough to beat tonight.

Michal Neuvirth was relatively untested by comparison as the Capitals nearly doubled the Leafs in shots.

From the outset tonight, the home team was in danger of being eliminated from playoff contention in the East. Toronto took the lead in the game thanks to a bullet from Nikolai Kulemin off a power-play rush.

The Capitals would respond with the man-advantage themselves. Working on a 5-on-3 power play, Alex Ovechkin cranked home his 300th career goal, a slapshot one-timer that no human on earth was going to stop.

The Maple Leafs played the Caps very tough in three of the four outings this year. They were not going to budge in this one, even if they were being outplayed and outshot. Reimer was incredible in the second period, one in which Ovechkin could have easily tallied twice more.

The locals got a head start on the scoring in the second period, when Phil Kessel found Joffrey Lupul driving hard to the far post. Lupul, who always manages to stick it to the Caps, poked the puck past Neuvirth to make 2-1.

John Erskine threw his weight around a lot in this contest. He flattened Nazem Kadri in the second period, but his biggest hit came on the score-sheet near the 12 minute mark of the middle frame. Matt Hendricks and Matt Bradley set big John up for a slapper that glanced past Reimer off the body of Luke Schenn.

A scoreless 3rd period led the Caps to their 4th consecutive overtime game. Neither club could punch through in OT, which meant a third shootout with the Leafs this season.

Neuvirth came up very large shutting down all four Maple Leafs shooters, which left the stage open for Mike Knuble. 14 years ago tonight, while playing with Detroit, Knuble scored his first NHL goal at Maple Leaf Gardens against Felix Potvin. This evening he beat Reimer over the glove to send the Caps home victorious.

The Flyers lost in Buffalo tonight, which means the Caps have the lead in the race for the top spot in the East. Two more games with Florida are all that stand between the Caps, their fans, and the Stanley Cup Playoffs.