With the Capitals entering Sunday’s home tilt against Minnesota in ninth in the Eastern Conference playoff race, the urgency for them to pick up two points against an inferior opponent was obvious. They took care of business, beating the Wild 3-0 behind Braden Holtby’s 28 saves.
Holtby made several timely saves for the Capitals to keep the game scoreless throughtout the first half of the game while the Wild, playing their second game in less than 24 hours, managed to dominate the early shot total 15-9.
“I’m very happy with him,” Capitals Head Coach Dale Hunter said. “He’s a battler. You see him handle the puck, I think he really helps our D a lot in making decisions.”
Then at 10:09 of the second the Wild were caught being aggressive with four skaters down low in Washington’s end, leading to a 2-on-1 for Alex Semin and Jason Chimera. Semin found Chimera on a fancy pass for a tap in to give the Capitals the lead.
Soon after, Wild Defenseman Clayton Stoner took a delay of game penalty for a puck that appeared to have deflected off Capitals’ forward Mike Knuble’s stick. Either way, the Capitals took advantage of that opportunity when Troy Brouwer hit a streaking Matthieu Perreault for yet another tap-in on a 2-on-1.
Minnesota Goaltender Matt Hackett, making just his 10th career start, didn’t appear to have a fair chance on either goal. Meanwhile, Perreault potted his 14th of the season and continues to be a pleasant storyline in a season so far filled with unmet expectations in D.C.
The second period was just what the Capitals needed, as they limited Minnesota to just five shots and used their speed to burn the Wild in transition en route to a 2-0 lead.
On Friday night against Winnipeg, the Capitals jumped out to a 3-0 lead only to watch it evaporate and turn into a 4-3 loss, so all eyes were on Hunter’s bunch to see how they would come out to start the third.
The Capitals made sure there was no such repeat Sunday, largely taking the play to Minnesota until Alex Ovechkin scored his 10th goal in 10 games to put the Capitals ahead 3-0 and the game essentially out of reach. The goal, his 36th of the season, tied him for fourth in the league in goals with Phil Kessel. It’s no wonder Hunter gave him a game-high 26:19 of ice time.
“Two years ago I had that kind of trust,” Ovechkin said. “I’d play every third shift almost all game. I felt pretty good. I was sharp, I was in the game and I was fresh.”
While no game is technically a “must-win” until anyone is mathematically eliminated, coming away with two points Sunday was in the Capitals’ best interests to say the least, given their razor-thin margin for error and the hard-charging Buffalo Sabres jostling for the eighth-seed. On that note, Buffalo and the Capitals meet on Tuesday in yet another “biggest game of the year” for Washington at Verizon Center.
“They’re a very hungry team right now,” Mike Knuble said. “They’re going to be up for the challenge and ready to try to take it from us. Our mission is to not to let it happen.”