The Capitals got a taste of what playoff hockey will be like in a grinding 2-1 overtime loss to the stingy Ottawa Senators, a team that may end up being their first-round opponent when the NHL’s second season starts next week. Michal Neuvirth made 39 saves and Alexander Ovechkin scored a highlight reel goal in his 600th career game to extend his lead in the Rocket Richard race, but the desperate Senators held on for the win, clinching a playoff spot and a regular season sweep of the Caps.
The Sens got another boost Thursday as Erik Karlsson laced up for the first time since February 13, when 70 percent of his Achilles Tendon was lacerated via Matt Cooke’s skate blade. Karlsson logged over 27 minutes of ice time and recorded two primary assists and 8 shots in the win. Neuvirth, who hadn’t started since April 9, closed the door during the third period when the Senators had 23 shots and nearly five minutes on the man advantage, but the dreaded 4-on-3 OT power play eventually downed the Caps, as Sergei Gonchar scored 47 seconds into the extra frame.
Winless against the Senators this year, the Capitals still believe they have made strides against Ottawa and are not concerned should they meet for a seven-game series.
“We gave them more,” Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner said of his team’s recent performance against the Sens. “Still, we have more to give. Didn’t see as much of our offensive zone play as we normally like to have…but it was better than the last time.”
Matching up against the defensively tight Senators has been hard for the Caps throughout the season. Nonetheless, considering the game was mostly meaningless for Washington, they fared well against an Ottawa squad fighting for a post-season berth.
“That’s an important game for (the Senators),” Capitals defenseman Steve Olesky said. “We knew they were going to come hard and I feel we matched them pretty well. I think if we get a couple bounces early to go our way, I think we’re talking about a completely different game.”
Capitals Head Coach Adam Oates was also mostly pleased with his team.
“We played two nights ago, it was pretty electric in here and we had to try and let that go and get ready for tonight,” he said. “And I thought we did a pretty good job of it.”
Oates wouldn’t comment on the officiating during the game, but he did say that all of the post-whistle activity was “probably a little more than we’d like.”
While the jubilance from Tuesday night’s division clinching victory may still have the Caps unsettled, they know they have to be ready no matter who they face in round one.
Now they just have a better idea of what playing the Senators might look like.
“I think it would be an entertaining series, that’s for sure,” Alzner said.
Ottawa opened the scoring 12:35 into the first period when Jakob Silfverberg deflected Erik Karlsson’s rocket from the point past Neuvirth. Ovechkin tied the game and brought the Verizon Center crowd to life with one of his prettier goals of the season. Capitalizing on a turnover in Ottawa’s defensive zone, Ovechkin pounced on a loose puck and made a power move around Craig Anderson, sweeping a backhand shot past the sprawling Senators goalie. Despite being outshot 23-4 during the third period, the Caps managed to push the game to overtime, where Gonchar clinched the win for the visiting team.