While three days between games this week offered plenty of time to study the standings and their competition for the Eastern Conference’s two wild-card berths, the Washington Capitals remain focused on themselves.
All they can control is how many of their final nine games they win, after all, and they’ll need to win several if they’re going to secure a playoff berth without owning any tiebreakers. The next hurdle on the schedule, though, is a significant one.
The Boston Bruins, well on their way to the top seed in the East, arrive for their matinee meeting with the Capitals on a 13-0-1 run that’s seen them roll through all types of teams. Thursday, Boston shut out the defending Stanley Cup champion and the league’s leading scorers, the Chicago Blackhawks, 3-0.
So who’s afraid of the big bad Bs?
Not the Capitals, at least not recently. Washington is 6-3, with a pair of overtime wins and a shootout victory, against the Bruins the last three regular seasons and also eliminated Boston from the first round of the playoffs in a seven-game series in 2012. The Capitals are also the only team to defeat Boston in regulation since the Olympic break.
“They’re going on all cylinders, they’re a good hockey team. Very good hockey team,” said Coach Adam Oates, who was asked why the Capitals seem to match up well with Boston. “I think one of the reasons is we respect them. We know they’re a good hockey team and if you’re not ready to play them they can embarrass you. I’m hoping we have the effort we had in there [on March 1] and we can play solid and not give them much.”
The Capitals’ first two games against Boston this year came earlier this month and offered a demonstration on their dual nature.
On March 1, Washington won, 4-2, at TD Garden after jumping out to an initial lead thanks to two power play goals by Alex Ovechkin. The Capitals were outshot, 38-31, and out-attempted, 67-44, but those deficits were manageable with the early advantage.
On March 6, Washington lost, 3-0, in a game that featured no power plays for either team and was essentially a clinical demonstration in puck possession as the Bruins outshot the visitors, 43-16, and out-attempted them, 67-32. Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask (.931 save percentage, 2.01 goals-against) recorded his first win against the Capitals in that contest.
“They play different hockey than most of the teams. They play more defensive style of hockey, good goalie, good defensive guys and sometimes it’s just hard to play against that kind of team,” Ovechkin said, knowing that while this may be the final regular season meeting between the two teams if the Capitals succeed in their quest to reach the postseason they could meet again in the first round.
“It’s going to be like playoff match because if we going to be in we going to play against Boston,” Ovechkin said. “It’s a huge challenge for the team and it’s always nice to play against a good team who knows how to win and you get that momentum on your side if you win.”