A little after 8 p.m. Friday night, as the Washington Capitals zipped the puck around the offensive zone and maintained possession for extended stretches to create quality scoring chances against the Chicago Blackhawks, who are one of the best teams in the Western Conference, a throaty yell from the 400 level rang out across Verizon Center.
“Where was this all [expletive] season?!” the man shouted, drawing applause from those around him, presumably because they were wondering the same thing.
That the Capitals defeated defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago, 4-0, for their fourth straight win Friday is, in some ways, only a cruel tease.
Consistency vexed Washington for the better part of seven months and now — in the final week of the regular season, after the Capitals have been eliminated from playoff contention — the team strings wins together that harbor no greater meaning.
To be sure, the teams the Capitals are facing are either cruising toward the Stanley Cup playoffs or, like themselves, simply marking time until the offseason, making it ill-advised to read too much into any particular game. To wit, the Blackhawks played without stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, both injured, rested top defenseman Duncan Keith and showed perhaps a third of the speed they’re capable of when at the top of their game.
“You don’t want to take too much out of a game like that,” Eric Fehr said. “It’s great that we got the win, and we played pretty well in both ends of the ice, but you can’t lay too much on it.”
But the box score still reads that Washington dented Chicago starting netminder Corey Crawford for four goals on 20 shots through the first 40 minutes before he was pulled before the third. His counterpart, Jaroslav Halak, finished with 34 saves in his first shutout as a Capital.
To a man, the Capitals want to go out playing strong — playoffs or not.
“It’s pretty hard to be mentally ready for that kind of game because you know you out of playoffs and basically season is over, one more game. We play for fans. They came to see us and they want to see the game. They want to see nice plays,” Alex Ovechkin said. “Of course it’s hard, but soon it’s going to be like five months to play golf and do some stuff; you’re probably going to miss hockey, so that’s why you give everything and enjoy your moment.”
Ovechkin got the rout going with his 51st goal. The shot itself was of the familiar variety as he ripped a one-timer from the left circle on the power play past Crawford’s blocker side just 2 minutes 4 seconds into the game.
Every corner of Washington’s offense flowed with an easy confidence in the absence of pressure. One of the team’s most unlikely sources of goals came through with half of the team’s output. Jay Beagle, the hard-working center who usually plays on the third or fourth line, recorded the first two-goal game of his career in his 191st NHL regular season contest.
His first goal came 9:22 into the first, after defenseman Dmitry Orlov brought the puck toward the hash marks before sending a pass to the right side of the net. The puck went off Blackhawks defenseman Nick Leddy, but Beagle found it loose in his opponent’s feet and fired into an open net to make it 2-0.
Nicklas Backstrom added his 18th goal and fourth in as many games 79 seconds into the second period to make it 3-0. Then it was Beagle adding to the total once more. With 16:16 gone in the second, Jason Chimera sent a pass from behind the net out in front to Beagle for a one-timer past Crawford.
His teammates spent the rest of the game trying to set Beagle up for a third goal. Although it never came, the 28-year-old forward enjoyed the moment.
“It was obviously special,” said Beagle, who had a total of 11 goals in his career before Friday night. “We talked about it soon as we found out that our chances were gone for the playoffs. . . . We just said let’s finish hard, let’s finish strong and be professionals and do it for our fans and for ourselves to finish strong and play hard.”
Capitals note: Marcus Johansson left the game 4:27 into the second period after being hit on the left hand with a Backstrom shot during a power play. He did not return to the game and will miss Sunday’s season finale with what the team would only describe as an upper-body injury.