The regular season is finally over and after Philadelphia defeated the New York Rangers, 2-1, in a shootout on Sunday evening, to grab the last playoff spot, the eighth seed was finally set and it will be the Montreal Canadiens who will take on the Washington Capitals in a round one series that will start at the Verizon Center. The Capitals had four close regular season contests with the Habs with Washington winning 4-3 in OT and 4-2 while Montreal won 3-2 and 6-5 in OT. It was a series that saw each team winning a game on the other team’s home ice. Montreal’s Carey Price played all four contests in net while the Caps started Michal Neuvirth in three of the games (Jose Theodore relieved him in the 6-5 OT loss) with Semyon Varlamov starting and winning the other tilt in overtime in Montreal. Washington had trouble with Canadiens forward Tomas Plekenac so #14 will be a guy the Capitals will have to pay close attention to. This is the first ever playoff matchup between the Caps and the Canadiens.
UPDATE: The NHL just announced the days and times for the Washington-Montreal series:
Thursday, April 15, 2010 7 p.m. Montreal at Washington
Saturday, April 17, 2010 7 p.m. Montreal at Washington
Monday, April 19, 2010 7 p.m. Washington at Montreal
Wednesday, April 21, 2010 7 p.m. Washington at Montreal
*Friday, April 23, 2010 7 p.m. Montreal at Washington
*Monday, April 26, 2010 7 p.m. Washington at Montreal
*Wednesday, April 28, 2010 TBD Montreal at Washington
* – if necessary
In other Eastern Conference match-ups the #2 seeded New Jersey Devils will take on the #7 Flyers, #3 Buffalo takes on #6 Boston, and the despised #4 Penguins battle the #5 Ottawa Senators. In the West it will be the #1 seeded San Jose Sharks against #8 Colorado, #2 Chicago taking on #7 Nashville, #3 Vancouver getting the #6 Los Angeles Kings, and #4 Phoenix will take on the #5 Detroit Red Wings. I will have my playoff preview and predictions posted on Monday night.
Now to today’s tilt. I think the last thing Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau and Boston Bruins Coach Claude Julien wanted in a totally meaningless game was overtime and then a shootout but it took that to decide the fourth and final 2009-10 regular season meeting between the two squads, with the B’s coming out on top, 4-3 (the Caps won the first three games). Alexander Semin scored his 40th goal of the season early on while Alexander Ovechkin was held pointless and did not win the Art Ross Trophy (most points) for the second straight season. In addition, Steven Stamkos potted an empty net goal and Sidney Crosby scored twice in his meaningless game against the New York Islanders to overtake Ovechkin by one (51 to 50) to tie for the Rocket Richard Trophy (most goals). With the shootout defeat, the Capitals end the 2009-10 regular season with a franchise high 54-15-13 (121 points) and were the first non-original six team to reach the 120 point threshold (only Montreal (4), Detroit (2), and Boston had done it previously). Boudreau was certainly impressed with the effort he received from his club all season.
“They lost 15 games out of 82, they never quit. Getting points in 67 of 82 games is great. They are a great team. Today’s shootout loss, not withstanding, we’d won 5 in a row, lost only 2 regulation games since the Olympic break…so there is a lot to like about the character and ability of this team because there seems to be a lot of people who don’t believe in this team,” said Boudreau, noting that he hears some of the critics who dismiss his teams chances of winning the Stanley Cup.
As for today’s contest, Julien rested some of his top guns, including 2008-09 Norris Trophy winning defenseman Zdeno Chara and 2010 Team Canada gold medal winning forward Patrice Bergeron while Boudreau put out Boyd Gordon and Matt Bradley in the shootout instead of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, or Semin, as he would normally do in a game that meant something. The Capitals also spent most of their efforts trying to set up Ovechkin for goals, even when that wasn’t the smart play. But there wasn’t a lack of intensity in certain stages as evidenced by Mike Green throwing caution to the wind and sliding on the ice to block a late Boston slap shot with his pants (luckily they are well padded) or Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, who has a Hanrahan type edge to his cage minding, nailing Chimera several times with his blocker after #25 was shoved into him by a Bruin on a scoring chance in the early stages of the game.
“Boston looked like their whole concern was to not let Alex score and our guys were also looking for him. We’ll get back to normal this week,” added Boudreau on the different flow of Sunday’s tilt.
“The last couple of games we didn’t play our game, we didn’t finish our checks because we want to save ourselves, I think. I think, I hope, we’re going to play our way in the playoffs,” commented Ovechkin about a post season that finally has arrived.
“It didn’t effect Boston’s seed and it didn’t effect ours, so why not give some guys who’ve worked their rears off a chance to get in the limelight? We didn’t succeed but I’d do it again if I had to,” finished Boudreau on his unusual shootout choices.
As for Varlamov, he got the loss but made 35 saves, his highest save total since recording a career-high 38 stops on 11/21 at Toronto. Varlamov fell to 3-4 lifetime in shootout games. In the shootout both David Krejci and Miroslav Satan beat Varly with dekes after #40 got caught out too far from the cage. Boudreau, who still has not revealed his starting goaltender for the Montreal series and likely won’t until close to puck drop for game one, had the following comments on Varlamov’s performance against the B’s.
“The second and third goal that went in, you said, ‘Should he have had them?’ They were both good shots. He made some big saves. I got all of the confidence in the world in Varly. Until he tired out, he was tremendous in the playoffs last year,” said the 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winner on his young goaltender.
As for Green, he played superb all year but seemed to take his entire game to another level down the stretch, especially in his own end. #52 recorded his career-best 57th assist on Knuble’s third-period goal. Green also finished the season with a new career high with 76 points (19 goals, 57 assists). He lead all NHL defensemen in goals, assists and points plus he finished +39 overall. The “One Man Breakout” talked afterwards about the Caps season and where he sees them heading into the postseason.
“I think there’s been expectations all season. We’ve done a fairly good job of trying to achieve them. The bar’s set so high for us now that we have to make sure that we stay intact and reach our goals. Since training camp, our goal has been a Stanley Cup. The real season starts now,” started Green, “I think we’re more hungry, we’re more focused and you can really sense that around the dressing room guys really want this. It’s obviously a different game in the playoffs and we have to adjust,” finished the man who should win the 2009-10 Norris Trophy after narrowly missing last season.
Notes: Jeff Schultz was +2 today and ended up leading the league in that category at an astounding +50! Let’s hope he stays healthy this post season because he makes a huge difference on the blue line for the Capitals…The Capitals finished the season with an NHL-leading 313 goals (not counting shootout “goals” reflected in the standings) and are the highest scoring team since the 1995-96 Pittsburgh Penguins (362). Washington leads the league in goals per game (3.82), even-strength goals (233), power-play goals (79), home goals (156), road goals (157), first-period goals (92), second period goals (103) and third-period goals (112)…Chimera played in his 500th NHL game…The Capitals closed out the year with the NHL’s best home record at 30-5-6. They set the team record for points at home (65) and tied the team mark for home wins, set in 1985-86. Washington hosted sellouts for all 41 home games and a club-record 48 games in a row dating back to last season (56 in a row including playoffs). The Caps broke the club total attendance record this afternoon (749,357).
Hershey Bears News: The 2009 Calder Cup Champion HERSHEY BEARS announced today in conjunction with the American Hockey League that the team will face the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in the 2010 East Division Semi-Finals. The announcement was made today by BEARS President/GM Doug Yingst.
The BEARS will begin its Calder Cup title defense Wednesday night at Giant Center, hosting the Sound Tigers at 7:00 p.m. Game 2 will also be held at Giant Center Friday night before the series shifts to Bridgeport Saturday for Game 3.
The full schedule of the 2010 East Division Semi-Final between the BEARS and Sound Tigers is as follows:
Game 1: Wednesday, April 14 Bridgeport at HERSHEY 7:00 p.m. Giant Center
Game 2: Friday, April 16 Bridgeport at HERSHEY 7:00 p.m. Giant Center
Game 3: Saturday, April 17 HERSHEY at Bridgeport 7:00 p.m. Arena at Harbor Yard
Game 4: Sunday, April 18 HERSHEY at Bridgeport 3:00 p.m. Arena at Harbor Yard
*Game 5: Wednesday, April 21 Bridgeport at HERSHEY 7:00 p.m. Giant Center
*Game 6: Friday, April 23 HERSHEY at Bridgeport 7:00 p.m. Arena at Harbor Yard
*Game 7: Saturday, April 24 Bridgeport at HERSHEY 7:00 p.m. Giant Center