Down the stretch they come: Hot Bruins clinch division
WASHINGTON — Check two more items off the list in an impressive homestretch by the Boston Bruins. They are now Atlantic Division champions, and Jarome Iginla has recovered from his slow start to reach 30 goals once again.
Boston accomplished those feats Saturday against the Washington Capitals, a desperate team whose first and foremost goal — making the playoffs for a seventh straight season — looked a bit more distant after Saturday’s 4-2 loss.
"We need these wins so bad," Washington defenseman Karl Alzner said, "that sometimes you overplay. It can be a big problem that can really mess your game up."
And it’s not a good idea to mess up against the Bruins, who have won 14 of 15 and have allowed only 13 goals over 11 games. Iginla scored twice, and Carl Soderberg added a goal to give Boston a 3-0 lead in the second period, more than enough to hold off a surge from a Washington team that woke up too late.
The Bruins had already clinched a playoff spot, so the division title didn’t create so much as a celebratory ripple in the locker room.
"We don’t even talk about that. I wasn’t even — I knew there was something that would happen if we won tonight, but we find out now we’ve clinched and that’s fine," coach Claude Julien said. "Again, we’ve got an opportunity to do even more than that."
Patrice Bergeron added a third-period goal to extend his goal-scoring streak to a career-high six games, and Chad Johnson made 31 saves. Iginla reached the 30-goal mark for the 12th time, a nice comeback after scoring only four in the first 24 games this season.
"When you look at the start he had, nobody would have predicted that," Julien said. "But he’s a pretty streaky goal-scorer."
Iginla now has 10 goals in nine games.
"I’ve been getting some good bounces lately, and it’s been a fun year," he said. "Fun to win games and be at the top of the league, and to be on some streaks as a group."
Washington began the day tied with Columbus, Detroit and Toronto in what has essentially become a four-way race for two playoff spots, but the Capitals would lose a tiebreaker against all three teams.
The Bruins gave the Capitals’ top-rated power play only three chances, and they corralled Alex Ovechkin enough to keep the NHL’s leading goal scorer in a 5-on-5 slump. Ovechkin has 48 goals this season, but hasn’t scored at even-strength since Feb. 27.
The Capitals had no shots on goal in the first 6 minutes and only two after 14 minutes. The game was scoreless after the first period solely because of goalie Braden Holtby, but he could hold down the fort for only so long. A turnover at center ice allowed Soderberg to spring Iginla for a breakaway that opened the scoring in the second period.
A few minutes later, Soderberg redirected an already deflected shot by Bergeron on a power play to make it 2-0, and Iginla made it a three-goal lead by stuffing in his own rebound 41 seconds later.
Washington coach Adam Oates said he was "shocked" at how poorly his team started.
"I thought our forechecking was lousy," Oates said.
When the Capitals finally turned up the intensity, it came from the third line that has led the team in recent weeks. Jason Chimera put Washington on the board with 10 seconds remaining in the second period, and a dominant shift by his line drew a penalty on Andrej Meszaros in the third.
But the Capitals couldn’t score during the man advantage, and soon the Bruins had a power play of their own. With Ovechkin off for charging, Bergeron put in a rebound to restore the three-goal cushion.
Oates said the penalty on Ovechkin was a "terrible" call.
"I don’t like the call, but he called it," Oates said. "He saw something that I don’t agree with now, but our job is to kill it."