In a game that had absolutely no impact on where the Capitals will finish on the Eastern Conference ladder, Washington still managed to make Thursday night interesting. No one would challenge the fact that the contest had significant meaning for Ottawa and was of very little importance to the host. The Senators punched their ticket into the postseason with a 2-1 overtime win at Verizon Center.
Head Coach Adam Oates insisted that his team maintain focus, so he continued to dress the same skating line-up that had worked so hard to clinch the Southeast Division. His one change would come in goal, where Michal Neuvirth played extremely well in defeat.
The Senators, who have managed to play remarkably well despite losing their brightest stars to injury for long spells, would go with Craig Anderson in goal. The Illinois native, who has to be given strong consideration for the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team, (think Cory Schneider, Jonathan Quick, Ryan Miller?) was solid again tonight.
As they did a week ago, the two teams played through a scoreless first period. Washington would be awarded only one power-play opportunity for the night and it fizzled in the opening 20 minutes. The Caps, who boast the number-one rated power play in the NHL, went 0 for 6 against the Senators in three games this year.
Ottawa was thrilled to get reigning Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson back in the line-up tonight only 10 weeks removed from a grisly Achilles tendon tear. Karlsson set up the first goal of the night in the second period with a long slapshot that was re-directed in expert fashion by fellow Swede Jakob Silfverberg at 12:35 of the frame.
The Capitals would knot the score in the third period despite being outshot 23 to 4. Marcus Johnasson elevated a one-handed pass down the right wing for a hard-charging Alex Ovechkin. The feed hopped past veteran defenseman Chris Phillips and found Ovechkin in stride. He raced around Phillips then deked Anderson to his backhand for his league-leading 32nd goal of the season.
The Caps had a great chance to add to their total in the third period, but Nicklas Backstrom misfired after dragging Anderson down to the ice on his forehand.
The two teams played the entire game with a bit of a snarl, having seen each other only a week ago. Tempers were on edge, there was a lot of pushing and shoving after the whistle -- especially around the nets.
Mike Ribeiro was assessed a minor for hooking at 15:08 of the third, which the Caps penalty-killers neutralized. They were not as fortunate when Ribeiro was tagged with a penalty for roughing with 58 seconds left in the game.
The Caps survived the remaining shorthanded time in regulation, but could not hold off the Senators skating 4-on-3 in overtime.
Longtime Cap Sergei Gonchar laced a wicked slapshot past a heavily-screened Neuvirth only 47 seconds into the extra time to vault the Senators into a playoff berth.
With Ottawa and the N.Y. Rangers winning this evening, the Winnipeg Jets were eliminated from playoff contention. So we now know which eight teams in the East will be in the playoffs, we just don’t know in what order yet.
Washington will finish its regular season on Saturday at 7.p.m with a visit from the Boston Bruins. That game can be seen on Comcast SportsNet.