Despite the fact, 14 of the NHL's 30 teams finished their regular season before this morning, the Capitals first round playoff opponent was still unknown as well - would it be the Montreal Canadiens or would there be another rematch against the New York Rangers. That would be determined during today's game in Philadelphia, both the Rangers and the Flyers started the day with 86 points, the winner would have 88, the same total as the Canadiens finished their season with last evening, and continue on to the playoffs. The loser would fall just short and their season would be over. The "play-in" has so many undercurrents, sub-plots and story lines around it, being between division rivals whose overall season results were generally below pre-season expectations, that it was actually hard to know what to expect. In the end ... the match ups in both conferences are now set.
In the East:
1) Caps vs. 8) Canadiens
2) Devils vs. 7) Flyers
3) Sabres vs. 6) Bruins
4) Penguins vs. 5) Senators
In the West:
1) Sharks vs. 8) Avalanche
2) Blackhawks vs. 7) Predators
3) Canucks vs. 6) Kings
4) Coyotes vs. 5) Red Wings.
We started the day with the Caps still having one game to play, against the Bruins, at Verizon Center, on National TV - NBC's Sunday Game of the Week. Both the Caps and the Bruins were in the playoffs, and their seeding was set. The Caps started the day with a league leading 120 points and their first President's Trophy already on their mantle this season. Boston started the day entrenched in 6th place in the Eastern Conference with 89 points. Regardless of the score at the end of this afternoon's game against the Capitals, the Bruins would finish the day in 6th place and face either Buffalo or New Jersey depending on how those teams finished the day during which who of those two would be in 2nd and who would finish 3rd in the East. In the end ... the Bruins took the Caps all the way to a shootout ending regulation and overtime in a 3-3 tie before the Bruins won the "gimmick" leaving the Caps with a season long record of : 54-15-13 and 121 points and poised for the start of the playoffs against the Canadiens.
... and the NBC coverage was very even handed. It's been a long time since I've watched a game covered by NBC as a Caps fan and didn't have at least two or three issues with commentary made by the NBC broadcast team, so I feel obligated to give some kudos on this one. First there was actually some love shown by both Pierre McGuire and Mike Milbury for Mike Green's game and skills BOTH Defensive and Offensive skill. Milbury's assessment of the Caps strengths and weaknesses during the first intermission was low key and I felt even handed. He mentioned real legitimate stats, the PK#, the GAA, and the OT record, that show where the Caps need to tighten up the team defense and why people focus on that and the goaltending as to why the Caps might be beatable in the playoffs. He didn't make any sort of stupid, sensational, emotional statements, like say a certain winger who currently plays for a non-playoff team domiciled in the State of Ohio.
Last night's results meant that at least 9, possibly 11, teams in the league would finish the regular season today with 100 or more points. That total is, by far, the most teams over 100 points ever and, IMO, is clear evidence of the combined effects of the introduction of the three point game in conjunction with the increasing parity throughout the league as a result of the salary cap and free agency as regulated under the current NHL CBA. At the end of the day ...eleven (11) teams did finish with 100 or more points, four (4) in the Eastern Conference and seven (7) in the Western Conference.
All that said, the day started with several Alex Ovechkin still clearly fighting for the Rocket Richard Trophy as well as having a third Art Ross Trophy within reach, and several other Capitals still working towards some milestones. Alexander Semin started the day with 39 goals, Semin had never reached the 40 goal plateau. Mike Green started the day with 19 goals, back to back 20+ goal seasons for a defenseman was a notable accomplishment to be shooting at. Mike Knuble started the day with 28 goals, the 37 year old veteran has reached the 30 goal plateau only two other times in 13 NHL seasons. So the game between the Bruins and the Capitals was not without items of interest. In the end... Semin tallied the game's first goal while the team's were even strength at the 2:23 mark. That score was number 40 on the season for the talented winger from Krasnojarsk, Siberia; his first 40 goal season, though likely not his last.
Knuble tallied one of the two goals he needed but finished the season with 29 goals. Green played a great game notching an assist and going +2 for the day, but finished the season with 19 vice 20 goals. Ovechkin ended the day with no additional points, last year's Vezina Winner Tim Thomas robbed him several times today to keep the Capitals Captain off the board today. So the following three guys should all be sending their thanks for the help cards to the Bruins 'tender: Ross Trophy Winner Henrik Sedin, Rocket Richard Trophy Co-Winners Sidney Crosby, and Steven Stamkos.
So what's next? The first round of the playoffs, you know that "second season" - the one that really counts. For the Washington Capitals it starts at Verizon Center, when they take on the Canadiens. If your like me, you've been anticipating this year's playoffs for about 9 months. Seriously, I've been expecting the Capitals to return to the playoffs since last August. Now we'll see how much better, mature, and focused this Capitals team is then any prior one. Personally, I know this is exactly what all of us who lived through "the rebuild" as Caps fans and Season Ticket Holders (STHs) were hoping and rooting for. Hopefully, this is just the beginning.
LETS GO CAPS!!! C-A-P-S, CAPS, CAPS, CAPS!!!!