The Capitals didn’t necessarily play the game they wanted and they rested veterans Jason Arnott and Scott Hannan but they still managed to earn a 5-2 win over Florida and move one step closer to clinching the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
With the win Wednesday night, Washington’s magic number is one — whether the Capitals obtain it Saturday when they close out the regular season in South Florida against the same Panthers or the Philadelphia Flyers fail to gain one of the four points still available to them. The Flyers will wrap up their regular season with games on Friday and Saturday against the Sabres and Islanders, respectively.
One player who chipped in for this latest victory was defenseman Sean Collins, in just his third game since being recalled on April 2 from the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears. Collins recorded the second NHL goal of his career 11 minutes 42 seconds into the second period to give Washington a 3-0 lead off a nice setup by Alex Ovechkin. Collins’s first NHL goal came on Jan. 1, 2009, against Tampa Bay and was also assisted by Ovechkin.
Regardless of that tally, though, the 27-year-old blue-liner has made the most of what was an unexpected recall to Washington.
“I’m just kind of taking it day by day, one day at a time and whenever they want to use me, I’m going to go out there and do my best to help out the team,” Collins said. “But I can’t really worry about when guys are coming back or anything like that. I’ve just got to try to prepare for the next day.”
The Capitals recalled Collins in the midst of watching three defensemen suffer injuries in three consecutive games. First, Dennis Wideman went out against Carolina on March 29 with what is now known to be a leg hematoma, then John Erskine exited on March 31 against Columbus after suffering an undisclosed injury.
The right-handed Collins played his first NHL game since 2009 against Buffalo, a contest that saw Tyler Sloan leave after having his “bell rung” when he was hit in the head and jaw, and got 14:07 of ice time.
Collins’s time dipped to less than 11 minutes in Toronto on Tuesday, but against Florida, with Hannan getting some time off, Collins played 18:38.
“He did a great job,” Coach Bruce Boudreau said. “He did a great job of following up that play [to score]. He played with Jeff Schultz today and probably had more minutes than he’s had up with us. I thought he was pretty steady out there.”
Collins knows the length of his tenure with the Capitals on this recall stint is not under his control, but he hopes that should the Washington again needs to bolster its defensive depth he’s made an impression on the coaching staff.
“Hopefully no one gets injured,” Collins said of potentially being needed in the postseason, “but if it happens hopefully they feel confident that they can bring me in and I can step in and do a pretty good job.”
--Jason Chimera got a few stitches to close a cut near his left eye that was the result of a third-period collision in the neutral zone with one of the Panthers. After the game, the Capitals winger said he was fine and that it was just a play where neither he nor the Florida skater saw each other.