By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 12, 2010; D01
The Washington Capitals surrendered a late lead Sunday en route to a 4-3 shootout loss to the Boston Bruins. But Alex Ovechkin and his teammates refused to dwell on a mostly meaningless defeat in the home dressing room at Verizon Center, where the mood was one of relief and anticipation.
Relief because no one got hurt in the regular season finale. Anticipation because they finally can focus on the time of year for which they'll be ultimately judged -- the playoffs, which begin Thursday night when Washington hosts Montreal in the clubs' first postseason meeting.
The Canadiens clinched the eighth seed when Philadelphia eliminated the New York Rangers with a 2-1 shootout victory at Wachovia Center, long after Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau and his players had left the arena.
"Well, we're really glad it's over," Boudreau said, referring to the regular season.
Alexander Semin reached the 40-goal plateau for the first time in his career. But his good friend, Ovechkin, finished without a point despite skating a game-high 25 minutes 55 seconds and facing a Bruins lineup that did not include top defenseman Zdeno Chara, and thus conceded the scoring championship to Vancouver's Henrik Sedin (112-109) and the goal title to Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos.
"Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, so congrats to Sedin," Ovechkin said. "He deserved it. He played great."
Crosby scored goals 50 and 51 on Long Island and Stamkos netted his 51st at Florida on Sunday, denying Ovechkin his third straight Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy. The Capitals' star finished with 50.
"Right now, it's most important this is what is coming and everybody is healthy, everybody feeling good," Ovechkin said. "The last couple of games we didn't play our game. We didn't finish our checks because we want to save ourselves for the playoffs. I hope we're going to play our way in the playoffs."
Ovechkin and his teammates will take Monday off to rest after a grueling 82-game campaign. Boudreau and his staff, however, will report to the team's Arlington practice facility at sunrise and begin reviewing tape from the Capitals' four encounters with the Canadiens and their second-ranked power play this season.
The Capitals went 2-1-1 against Montreal, edging them by a combined score of 15-14. In those games, Montreal scored a total of five power-play goals against Washington's 25th-ranked penalty kill.
"I've played in Montreal in the playoffs," said veteran Mike Knuble, who notched his 29th goal of the season in the third period. "It's a fantastic place to play in the playoffs because of the atmosphere and the tension and the focus on hockey. As a player, it's just a really fun place to play."
"The real challenging thing about the first round," he added, "is that they are really hard to get out of."
On Sunday, a first period that occasionally resembled a game of shinny ended with the score knotted at 2 after Michael Ryder scored twice for the Bruins, who locked up the sixth seed Saturday and decided to rest stars Chara, Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi. Ryder's second goal marked only the second game in the previous 16 that the Bruins' power play notched a goal.
After a scoreless second period, the teams exchanged goals again in the third -- Knuble for the Capitals and Marco Sturm for the Bruins, forcing Washington to overtime for the 12th time in its final 24 games.
In the shootout, Boudreau rewarded grinders Boyd Gordon and Matt Bradley, but they misfired. David Krejci and Miroslav Satan, meantime, beat Semyon Varlamov with pretty dekes to clinch the win, spoiling what was an otherwise decent showing for the rookie goalie, who made 35 saves.
"The second and third goals that went in, you sort of say, 'Should he have had them?' I don't know if he should have had them or not," Boudreau said. "They were both great shots. But at the same time, he made some big saves when he had to make the big saves. I have all the confidence in the world in Varly."
Boudreau hinted after the game that he has settled on a Game 1 starter, but he declined to say whether it will be José Theodore or Varlamov or whether he had informed the goalies. Earlier in the day, Boudreau said his entire postseason lineup, including goaltender, could hinge on the Capitals' first-round opponent.
Theodore has not lost a game in regulation since mid-January, closing the season on a 20-0-3 run. But the former Canadien did not start a game against Montreal during the regular season, hasn't started a game at Bell Centre since joining the Capitals, and in a relief appearance in February was taunted by 22,000 fans chanting "Tey-oh!"
In his career against Montreal, Theodore is 2-1-0 with a 4.05 goals against average and an .877 save percentage. Varlamov, meantime, is 2-0-0 with a 1.94 goals against average and a .930 save percentage.
Regardless of who starts in goal, the moment the Capitals have been anticipating for months is finally here.
"There's a lot of like about the character of this season and the ability of this team," Boudreau said. "Now we just prove it once again. But it seems there are a lot of people who believe we can't do it in the playoffs."
Defenseman Mike Green added: "I think we're more hungry [and] more focused [this season]. You can really sense that around the dressing room. Guys really want this."
Capitals notes: The Capitals set team records for attendance (749,357) and for fewest penalty minutes (940). . . .
Ovechkin and Semin combined for 90 goals, the highest total for teammates this season, and became the first Russian-born teammates to score 40 goals in the same season.