In the last month of the regular season everything appears to be in fine working order and in favor of the Caps. And that includes the league schedule. Washington took advantage of a weary group of Maple Leafs, smashing them for three second-period goals en route to a 5-1 decision at Verizon Center Tuesday night. It’s the eighth consecutive win for the hometown team.
Toronto had downed New Jersey, 2-0, one night earlier at Air Canada Center. All the postgame accounts of that contest led you to believe that Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer “stole” the win for his team.
Reimer was not in the cage for the Maple Leafs tonight, instead it was Ben Scrivens, who beat the Caps in Washington back in early February. Scrivens was good again this evening, but the Capitals would wear him and the Maple Leaf defenders down as the game went along.
Head Coach Adam Oates went back with Braden Holtby to guard his goal as he did throughout this very successful three-game homestand.
Jack Hillen gave the Caps the lead in a solid first-period showing. Hillen’s blast was likely headed wide of the goal, but it struck Toronto center-iceman Nazim Kadri and took a sharp detour into the far corner of the net, much to the chagrin of Scrivens.
Washington has been devouring teams in the second period in its last half-dozen games and this evening would follow suit.
Just as the Caps were concluding an unsuccessful power-play chance, Alex Ovechkin whistled a pass to the top of the crease that connected with the point of the hockey stick of Martin Erat. The re-direct resulted in Erat’s fifth goal of the year and his first with his new club in Washington.
Ovechkin and Troy Brouwer would clang quality scoring chances off the goalposts against Scrivens, but that did not deter the Caps.
Caps blueliner John Carlson sent Brouwer in on a quick-developing semi-breakaway, which the winger converted by deking to his backhand a slipping a shot between the skates of the fallen Leafs goalie.
The second-period onslaught was completed when the Caps had another power-play opportunity. Mike Green set-up Ovechkin for his patented one-time slapshot that nearly singed the ear of Scrivens. The rocket blast would be his 28th goal of the season, a league-leading tally for the Capitals captain.
The Maple Leafs ruined the shutout attempt of Holtby at the 3:05 mark of the third period. Ryan Hamilton twisted a shot toward the cage that became a whole lot more dangerous once Mikhail Grabovksi deflected it. It slipped past the Caps netminder with just less than 17 minutes remaining in regulation time.
The scoring summary was finished with another power-play strike from Washington. Marcus Johansson was camped out at the right goalpost waiting for the rebound of a point drive from Mike Green. The puck caromed off the back-boards right to the doorstep where Johansson would chip home his 6th goal of the season.
Holtby finished with 29 saves for his 20th win overall on the year.
Ovechkin was the number one star of the game. He ended the night with a goal and an assist, and a lot from credit from his teammates for defending Nicklas Backstrom, after the Swede was railed into the boards by Jay McClement in the first period.
The Caps “magic number” for clinching the Southeast division was reduced to seven with the win. Winnipeg knocked off Tampa Bay in a shootout tonight to keep pace in the divisional race. From here on out, any combination of seven points either won by Washington or lost by Winnipeg will close out the chase for the Southeast crown.
The Capitals hit the road for their next two games in Ottawa and in Montreal. The Thursday night tilt with the Senators will air on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with Caps Central at 7:00 p.m.