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‘Gutsy’ Caps blank Bruins, move within a win of securing playoff spot

‘Gutsy’ Caps blank Bruins, move within a win of securing playoff spot

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

Technically speaking, the Washington Capitals could neither clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs nor be eliminated from contention based on their result against the Boston Bruins on Monday.

But the Capitals weren’t willing to leave their postseason hopes up to fate, nor were they keeping a close eye on the out-of-town scoreboard. They knew their simplest path to the playoffs was winning Monday at Capital One Arena and Tuesday in Philadelphia, and they checked the first of those two boxes with a 2-0 win over the Bruins.

Goaltender Charlie Lindgren made 16 saves to earn his sixth shutout and could be in line to start again Tuesday; Washington Coach Spencer Carbery said the coaching staff has yet to decide on the lineup. Jeremy Swayman stopped 23 of 24 shots for Boston.

“As good as we’ve seen on home ice, when we needed it the most,” Carbery said. “I thought the game, especially through the first two periods, was so clean. All the things we were doing with the puck, without the puck, the way we defended. We had a few guys go down, but everybody was just so connected in everything we were doing, in all three zones. It was impressive, and we needed it, obviously, to stay in this fight. Now it comes down to the last day.”

With a win over the New Jersey Devils, the New York Islanders clinched third place in the Metropolitan Division, leaving the Capitals, Flyers, Detroit Red Wings and the Pittsburgh Penguins all scrapping for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Washington holds the inside track after the Capitals, Red Wings and Penguins won Monday. The Red Wings play again Tuesday and the Penguins face the Islanders on Wednesday, a game that could decide the Capitals’ fate if they come up short Tuesday in Philadelphia.

Washington had the upper hand on the Bruins from the beginning. Boston didn’t record its first shot on goal until the 11:36 mark of the first period, and just 24 seconds later, defenseman John Carlson beat Swayman with a blast from the point that sailed through traffic and landed in the back of the net.

Center Dylan Strome, who made the pass from the top of the right faceoff circle to Carlson for his one-timer, was the first to wrap his arms around Carlson in jubilant celebration. Strome, who played in the bubble postseason with the Chicago Blackhawks but has never experienced the full-fledged version of the playoffs, wants desperately to do so — and to do so with the franchise that has seen him set career-high point totals in each of the past two seasons.

That desire is plainly evident on each of Strome’s shifts, and it was just as evident for all of his teammates Monday.

“It was a gutsy effort at a big time,” Carlson said. “We’re confident in our game. Got to use that and go win one more.”

Despite dressing a defensive corps that included Alex Alexeyev, Vincent Iorio and Dylan McIlrath — who entered Monday with a combined 150 games of NHL experience, fewer than all but one of Boston’s blue liners — Washington limited the Bruins to just eight shots on goal through the first two periods. Lindgren was stable and confident when called upon, particularly after a couple of turnovers that gave David Pastrnak dangerous looks, but the Capitals’ defensive effort kept Lindgren from having to work all that hard through the first 40 minutes.

“All the simple things, all the things that are textbook defensive plays, I thought we did that tonight,” Lindgren said. “Every man stepped up. As a goaltender, I appreciate that, 100 percent. I see them battle like that, I better be battling just as hard.”

The only thing Washington didn’t do, as it worked its way through a controlled, effective game, was capitalize on the chances it had to extend its lead, leaving the door open for the Bruins in the final frame.

That’s when Lindgren stood as tall as he had all night, making eight saves in the third period — including a full-extension save to cover what would have been an open net that had the crowd at Capital One Arena chanting his name.

Lindgren’s final save came on a wrist shot from Boston defenseman Charlie McAvoy with 29 seconds left. On the ensuing faceoff, center Nic Dowd battled Charlie Coyle for the win, chased the puck into Washington’s offensive zone and stripped it from Brad Marchand. He then tucked it into the empty net — his second victory-sealing goal in as many games.

“From start to finish,” Lindgren said, “the boys in red were all over them tonight. Probably one of our best games of the year, honestly.”

Washington’s season now comes down to the final game of the campaign. Because the Capitals hold tiebreakers over the Red Wings and the Flyers and the Penguins are one point back, Washington is the team in the driver’s seat.

The path again is simple: Beat the Flyers, and the Capitals will be back in the playoffs.

“It’s pretty fitting for what this group has been through that it would come down to the last game, going on the road, playing a back-to-back against a real good hockey team to play one game,” Carbery said. “One game for our playoff lives.”

Note: Winger Beck Malenstyn suffered an upper-body injury late in the second period after being hit by Trent Frederic and did not return. Before his injury, Malenstyn skated 8 minutes 44 seconds and had two shots on goal. Malenstyn traveled with the Capitals to Philadelphia and will be assessed again in the morning.

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