Caps countdown Part 1

Caps countdown Part 1
April 28, 2013, 10:15 pm
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With the regular-season complete and the Stanley Cup Playoffs set to begin Tuesday (the Capitals face the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals), CSNWASHINGTON.com has counted down the Top-10 games of the Capitals’ regular-season.

Below is a look at Games 10-through-6. 

10: FEBRUARY 9, 2013: CAPITALS 5 – PANTHERS 0

A day after general manager George McPhee said publicly that the Capitals needed better goaltending and discipline both areas were much improved in a 5-0 shutout against the Florida Panthers.

The Capitals limped into their Feb.9 meeting against Florida in last place in the Eastern Conference with a 2-8-1 record but thanks to an impressive showing from Braden Holtby the game was never really in doubt.

Holtby made 35 saves for his first of four shutouts this season and had a primary assist on a Troy Brouwer power play goal that made the score 2-0. With the Panthers changing lines early in the second period, Holtby sailed a saucer pass from deep in the Capitals zone all the way to the opposite blueline where Brouwer accepted the disc, took a few strides, and fired a bullet high glove-side to beat Jose Theodore.

Brouwer would finish with two goals, while the Capitals third line of Mathieu Perreault (1G, 1A), Joel Ward (1G, 1A) and Eric Fehr (1A) combined for five points. Alex Ovechkin also recorded his first even strength goal of the season. 

9: APRIL 20, 2013: CAPITALS 5 – CANADIENS 1

Two nights after their season-high eight-game winning streak ended with a listless 3-1 loss against the Ottawa Senators, the Capitals responded in a big way with a 5-1 win against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre.

Alex Ovechkin and Troy Brouwer each scored twice for the Capitals, Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and an assist, and Braden Holtby stopped 35 of 36 shots for the win on Hockey Night in Canada.

The Capitals also won a key special-teams battle which pitted, at the time, two of the NHL’s top-four power plays. Washington went 2-for-3 on the power play and the Capitals’ penalty kill was a perfect 5-for-5 against the NHL’s fourth-rated PP unit. 

Ovechkin’s two goals on the night gave him 30 for the season. Ovechkin became just the ninth player in NHL history to record 30 goals in each of his first eight seasons.

8. MARCH 5, 2013: CAPITALS 4 – BRUINS 3 (OT)

Rookie defensemen Steve Oleksy and Tomas Kundratek were likely going to remember this game regardless of the final score, but the fact that it turned into the biggest comeback of Capitals’ season probably doesn’t hurt.

Oleksy made his long awaited NHL debut and picked up his first career NHL point while Kundratek notched his first career NHL goal and the Capitals rallied from a 3-0 second period deficit and beat the Boston Bruins 4-3 in overtime.

The night though ultimately belonged to Eric Fehr who had two assists in regulation before splitting defensemen Dennis Seidenberg and Dougie Hamilton for the highlight reel game-winning-goal in overtime.

Fehr was a key cog during the Capitals first extended run of winning hockey this season, recording six goals and 12 points in 11 games from Feb. 9 – March 7. The Capitals went 8-3-0 over that stretch. 

7. MARCH 30, 2013: CAPITALS 4 – SABRES 3 (SO)

Despite trading veteran defenseman Jordan Leopold earlier that day, playing without leading scorer Tomas Vanek and starting backup goalie Jhonas Enroth, the Buffalo Sabres gave the Capitals all they could handle in late March.

The Sabres led 3-1 early in the third period and had a chance to put the game away when John Carlson was sent to the sin bin for a delay of game penalty at 1:28 of the final frame. Instead, Troy Brouwer netted a shorthanded goal to pull the Capitals within one at 3-2; a goal made possible from a terrific clear from goalie Braden Holtby.

It remained a one-goal game until the final minute of regulation when, with Holtby on the bench for an extra-attacker, a Mike Green slapshot beat Enroth and tied the score.

Overtime settled nothing, but Matt Hendricks and Alex Ovechkin both scored in the shootout while the Sabres got nothing past Holtby.

The win was Washington’s fourth straight on the road. 

6. MARCH 19, 2013: PENGUINS 2 – CAPITALS 1

It’s not often that a loss would rank among the season highlights for an eventual division champion, but ask members of the Capitals when their season turned around and many will point to their March 19 game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“That was an important game for us because it turned [out] to be a little bit of a launch for us in terms of us playing well,” Oates said three weeks later. “So many good things came out of that game.”

At the time, the Capitals’ loss to Pittsburgh looked like a golden opportunity missed as they began a critical four-game road trip with a potentially devastating loss in regulation. 

The game turned midway through the third period when, rather than take advantage of a four-minute power play in a 1-1 hockey game, the Capitals managed just one shot on goal. Nine seconds after Matt Cooke’s double-minor expired, the Penguins took advantage of an odd-man rush with Cooke and Sidney Crosby setting up Matt Niskanen for the eventual game-winning goal.  

The win was Pittsburgh’s 10th straight and left the Capitals winless in their three-game season series against the Penguins. The result also left Washington with a 12-16-1 record for the season and nine points behind the Winnipeg Jets for the Southeast Division.

The positive for the Capitals was that they competed with the Penguins – something they had not done very much of in their first two meetings this season- and they felt that the system they had worked so hard to grasp was finally clicking.

The Capitals called it one of their best games of the season and the hope was that they would be able to build from it. Sure enough, following the 2-1 loss to Pittsburgh, the Capitals went 14-2-1 over the next 17 games, culminating in a Southeast Division title.  

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