With trade deadline drama behind them, Capitals cruise past Blackhawks

With trade deadline drama behind them, Capitals cruise past Blackhawks

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

It had been a tense couple of weeks for the Washington Capitals. As the trade deadline neared, they were battling to stay in the playoff race, knowing all the while it was more likely than not General Manager Brian MacLellan would sell rather than buy.

Coach Spencer Carbery described the feeling from his group as “anxiousness,” with the players caught between trying to stay focused on the task at hand and getting swept up in the rumor mill. But as the Capitals prepared to face the scuffling Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night at Capital One Arena — a day after the deadline passed, with Anthony Mantha, Joel Edmundson and Evgeny Kuznetsov having departed — Carbery sensed a different energy.

“Just us knowing that that has passed and this is our group now, moving forward into the last 21 games of the season and hopefully on,” he said Saturday morning. “You can feel that this morning — a little bit of a weight lifted off the group.”

The Capitals showed that lightness early on, getting goals from Hendrix Lapierre — his fifth in the past six games — and Mike Sgarbossa just 1:44 apart in the first period to give them a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. The emphatic celebration after each goal suggested the Capitals are dealing with much less anxiety now, and they carried that feeling to a comfortable 4-1 win.

Charlie Lindgren stopped 31 of 32 shots for Washington (30-23-9) after posting a shutout in Thursday’s 6-0 win in Pittsburgh. Petr Mrazek had 22 saves for the NHL-worst Blackhawks (16-43-5).

“You never want to see guys leave, and obviously good players were on the way out, and that’s hard to swallow,” defenseman John Carlson said. “But, yeah, I think there’s a great sense of community and family in here. And when that gets solidified, I think that gives everyone else a bump as well.”

When his redirection of a point shot from Carlson sailed into the net at 7:01, Lapierre jubilantly pumped his fist before turning to celebrate with his teammates. And when Sgarbossa backhanded a rebound over Mrazek at 8:45, Beck Malenstyn grabbed the goal scorer so fiercely he nearly knocked him to the ice.

Aided by a parade to the penalty box by the Blackhawks, the Capitals kept pushing. On Chicago’s third penalty of the period, winger Tom Wilson scored his second goal in as many games to pad Washington’s lead at 13:36. From behind the net, Dylan Strome found Wilson low in the slot for a one-touch finish past Mrazek.

With Wilson’s goal, the Capitals’ power play scored for the seventh consecutive game.

“It’s been consistently, game to game, giving us one [goal]. And I thought tonight’s goal was a really, really big goal to get that third one because [the Blackhawks] had some really good chances,” Carbery said of the power play. “Chuckie made a few good saves. … If it goes to 2-1, it’s ‘Here we go; game on.’ But that third goal gets it to 3-0 and puts us in a really good spot.”

Aliaksei Protas appeared to make it 4-0 shortly after Wilson’s tally, but his goal came off the board after the Blackhawks challenged for offside; Max Pacioretty was ruled to be across the blue line ahead of Protas, who had the puck.

Winning that challenge gave the Blackhawks some life. When Pacioretty went to the penalty box for interference a few minutes later, Chicago’s quest to get back in the game went up another level. But behind four saves from Lindgren, Washington maintained its lead.

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Things slipped for the Capitals in the second period — Carbery called the frame “horrific” — but Washington escaped without allowing Chicago to score, and winger Sonny Milano made it 4-0 at 17:24.

“Our puck management through that period, I mean, we just didn’t learn and didn’t learn and didn’t learn,” Carbery said. “ … We get out of that clean, which is crazy, but Chuckie was phenomenal tonight.”

Facing a four-goal deficit in the final 20 minutes, the Blackhawks — who remain a standings afterthought despite winning the draft lottery last season and selecting generational talent Connor Bedard — had few chances to make things interesting. Tyler Johnson ended Lindgren’s bid for a second straight shutout at 9:49, but that was as close as Chicago could get.

The Capitals went on the penalty kill with 5:44 left when Wilson was sent off for tripping, but Washington killed the penalty — helped by Bedard hitting the crossbar and a flashy, full-extension save by Lindgren on a Bedard one-timer from the left circle — and went on to post its third win in four games.

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“We’re still in a playoff hunt, obviously,” Lapierre said. “It was a really good game against Pittsburgh, and I think one of the things recently, we were winning but then we were losing the game after, so today was a big day. We wanted to just focus on Chicago, and I thought we did a great job.”

After winning two games in a row for the first time since a three-game streak Feb. 17 to 22, the Capitals depart Sunday for a five-game trip through western Canada — with a brief stop in Seattle — that will test their resolve to remain in the playoff race.

“We know we are facing the really good teams, but we know the way we have to play against these teams,” Protas said. “ … We just have to play our game — a game we’re used to playing when we are successful — and I think we can have success on the road.”

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