A flurry of short-handed goals in their 81st game not only
helped the Boston Bruins lock up a postseason spot, but it also
guaranteed they’ll avoid the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Washington
Capitals in the first round.
In fact, Boston has already snared the No. 6 seed in the Eastern
Conference, rendering Sunday afternoon’s regular-season finale at
Washington a mere tuneup for both clubs.
Washington’s explosive offense is the main reason the Capitals
(54-15-12) will enter the playoffs as the East’s top seed – the
same spot the Bruins held last spring.
But until Saturday, there was doubt about whether Boston
(38-30-13) would even return to the postseason. The Bruins dealt
with injuries to several key players and they remain without top
center Marc Savard and defensemen Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ference
and Mark Stuart, but they clinched a playoff spot with a 4-2 win
over Carolina on Saturday.
“We knew it was going to be a dogfight to the end,” forward
Blake Wheeler said. “We’ve had the mentality that it’s been a
playoff game pretty much here for the last few weeks. And I think
we really thrived under that sort of mentality and been playing
some pretty good hockey lately.”
Boston has gone 3-0-1 in its last four games to clinch the
berth. The Bruins have the league’s worst offense and have gone 0
for 22 on the power play in their last seven games, but they’ve
stayed afloat thanks to sharp defense and some timely scoring.
They took a 3-0 lead against the Hurricanes by scoring three
short-handed goals on the same Carolina power play in the second
period, a feat the Bruins said had never happened in NHL
Boston locked up the East’s No. 6 spot later Saturday night when
Montreal lost to Toronto. The Bruins will face New Jersey or
Buffalo in the first round.
“People will remember us as a team for how we finish, not how we
start,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said.
That statement could be even more true for the Capitals, who
will be disappointed if they don’t claim the first Stanley Cup in
“We just wait for the big things coming,” star forward Alex
Washington, which is 27-3-6 since Jan. 13, has accomplished
plenty of big things already this season. A win over the Bruins
would give the Capitals a four-game season-series sweep and a
club-record 31st home victory.
Ovechkin is challenging for both the goals and points titles,
while goalie Jose Theodore has gone a franchise-record 23 straight
games without a regulation loss. He made 29 saves in a 5-2 win over
Atlanta on Friday.
The Capitals simply want to keep the momentum going, something
they didn’t do at the end of the 2008-09 season. They lost the
finale 7-4 at Florida, then lost their first two playoff games to
the New York Rangers.
“I think people talk too much about that last game last year and
it leading into the playoffs,” forward Brooks Laich said. “… If
we win (Sunday), if we lose (Sunday), we don’t approach the first
game of the playoffs any different.”
If Tuukka Rask starts for Boston, the game will feature the
NHL’s most productive offense against the league leader in
goals-against average (1.97) and save percentage (.931).
The Capitals beat Rask 3-2 in overtime on Monday after Tim
Thomas was in net for the Bruins’ first two games against
Washington, both 4-1 defeats. Theodore, meanwhile, is 7-0-1 with a
1.87 GAA against the Bruins since the NHL lockout.