Sunday, June 20, 2010

The 2009-2010 season, by the "tens" -- Ten Games That Mattered: Montreal at Washington, April 28th

We are at the end of it, the last of the ten games that mattered in 2009-2010. Unfortunately, they do not end on a happy note, but rather a stunning one…

April 28: Montreal at Washington, Game 7, Eastern Conference Quarterfinals

The Result: Canadiens 2 – Capitals 1

The Background: A team plays 82-games to earn home ice advantage, but the advantage is perhaps weakest in the Stanley Cup playoffs than it is for any playoff game or series in any other major sport. Home ice in a seven-game series has been especially inhospitable for the Caps, who entered this game 2-5 in Games 7 on home ice in franchise history. This game seven would mark the fourth Game 7 the Caps would play in four playoff series over the past three years, all of those games on home ice. They lost the first, an overtime decision to the Philadelphia Flyers in 2008. They then won a Game 7 against the Rangers in the first round of the 2009 playoffs before dropping a Game 7 to the Pittsburgh Penguins at Verizon Center in the second round. What made this Game 7 one accompanied by a sense of foreboding was the fact that the Caps found themselves in this predicament after having taken a 3-1 lead in games. Eight times in club history the Caps found themselves heading into a Game 5 with a 3-1 lead, and three times they lost the series. Well, perhaps the loss-win-loss pattern would be extended in this game with a win…

Why It Mattered: By this time things were rather simple. As Jaroslav Halak went, so went the Canadiens. In three wins, Halak stopped 135 of 139 shots (.970 save percentage), and was named the first star of the game twice and second star once. In two losses (he sat in favor of Carey Price in Game 4) he stopped 41 of 50 shots (.820) and was pulled once. And, as a somewhat related matter, it helped if the Caps could get the first goal. Montreal managed to get the first goal in four of the first six games and won three of them, losing both games in which they allowed the first goal.

Given that backdrop it was a bad sign that the Caps peppered Halak with four shots in the first 2:45 of Game 7, none of them finding the back of the net. Halak’s weathering that mini-storm allowed the Canadiens’ defense to get their legs under them, holding the Caps without a shot on goal for the next 13:15. There was one shot, though, not recorded as such during this stretch that might have been lost in the maze of activity of the first period, a shot that too closely resembled a chance the Caps had in last year’s Game 7 loss to the Penguins. Twelve minutes into the period Brendan Morrison led a 3-on-2 break with Brooks Laich and Alexander Semin. Upon gaining the Montreal zone, Morrison fed Laich on the left wing. Laich skated in, pulling Halak to the near post and opening up a passing lane and a shot opportunity on the other side. Laich saw both and from the left wing faceoff dot slid the puck to Alexander Semin charging to the net. Semin redirected the puck to the open side of the cage, but instead of finding the back of the net and giving the Caps the important first goal, he hit the goalpost with the shot. It looked too much like the breakaway Alex Ovechkin had in last year’s Game 7 against the Penguins at the three-minute mark of the first period that Marc-Andre Fluery foiled as a prelude to a 6-2 loss.

It was Montreal that would draw first blood on a power play late in the period. Skating with a 4-on-3 advtantage, Scott Gomez controlled the puck low in the left wing faceoff circle looking for a passing lane. He found one, skipping the puck between Boyd Gordon and Brooks Laich to Marc-Andre Bergeron, who one timed a laser past goalie Semyon Varlamov 30 seconds before the end of the first period.

Montreal seemed content to put the game thereafter in the hands of Halak, and why would they not? First goals had been very good to the Canadiens to this point, and the Caps were showing more than a bit of frustration at being unable to find holes in the Canadiens’ defense or Halak’s netminding. The second period passed without a goal scored for either team, but it was clear Montreal was not taking any chances on offense that the Caps could use against them in a transition game. The Canadiens managed only three shots on goal (two of them good scoring opportunities) while the Caps recorded 13 shots on goal.

The game and the series, though, might have come down to a sequence in the first minute of the third period. The play started when Alex Ovechkin carried the puck into the Montreal end, cut to the middle, and got off a shot that was saved by Halak. The puck came back out to Nicklas Backstrom at the left wing boards, Ovechkin continuing his momentum around the back of the Montreal net. Backstrom fed Ovechkin, who had some skating room along the boards. As Ovechkin was circling into a shooting area, Mike Knuble maneuvered himself between defenseman Hal Gill and Halak at the edge of the crease. Ovechkin fired, and the puck found the back of the net through Knuble’s screen. But referee Brad Watson wasted no time waving off the goal, the reason being that Knuble’s right skate was in the blue paint and struck Halak’s pad as he was going down to attempt a save.

Getting that goal would have been an important factor in the way the rest of the period played out in that Montreal would have had to take more chances to get a tie-breaking goal. Instead, they could remain in their “rope-a-dope” mode, taking few chances and letting their defense frustrate the Caps by clogging the middle of the ice. It paid off for the Canadiens in the period’s 17th minute when Hal Gill chipped the puck from his own end off the glass and over the head of defenseman John Carlson. Maxim Lapierre and Mike Green were in a race for the puck, and it appeared as if Green could not decide whether to take the body or poke the puck away. He managed neither, and Dominic Moore collected the puck in the right wing faceoff circle. He curled in on Varlamov, and before Knuble could get back to get in Moore’s path, the Canadien chipped the puck far side and past Varlamov to give the Canadiens a two-goal lead with only 3:36 left to play.

The Caps did get one back on some hard work by Brooks Laich after Backstrom skated into the offensive zone with the puck. Backstrom fed Laich for a shot from the top of the left wing circle. Rather than admire his handiwork being stopped by Halak, though, Laich continued to the net. The rebound of the shot came out to Alex Ovechkin, who sent it right back on a backhand. Halak made the save but was not in position to smother the puck, leaving it lying there for Laich to dive at and lift into the net to get the Caps within one with 2:16 to play.

It got even more interesting shortly thereafter, as Ryan O’Byrne was sent off with 1:44 to play for high-sticking Mike Knuble, giving the Caps one last power play. And there was the cruelty of the series. A power play that led the league in efficiency during the season was 1-for-32 to that point. And now, the season lay in the balance on that same power play. Those last 104 seconds were a microcosm of the series. The Caps managed two inconsequential shots, both saved by Halak, while the Canadiens blocked two others – the Canadiens blocked 41 shots in this game and 182 in the series. The horn sounded in an empty arena, save for the cheers on the Montreal bench and among the Canadiens on the ice congratulating one another on a 2-1 Game 7 win.

The Takeaway: There is the old saying that “success has a thousand fathers, but failure is an orphan.” Well, not this time. First of all, failure is what it was. Despite the fact that the Canadiens might have been the worst possible first round draw for the Caps, these things are relative. Washington finished 33 standings points ahead of Montreal and finished first in the league in 5-on-5 goals while the Canadiens finished dead last.

That plus-81 differential in goals scored at full and even strength – almost exactly a full goal per game – should have mitigated the problems the Capitals had with their power play. But oh, what a woeful power play it was – 1-for-33 in the seven games. The Caps finished the season with a 25.2 percent success rate on their power play. If the Caps finished this series at, say, 20 or so percent (six goals), we are likely writing a very different piece this morning. And if they finished at their season level of efficiency, which would have resulted in eight goals, well… we are definitely writing about another game.

But there was so much more about this series that was disappointing. There was the matter of paying a price to make a play, especially on defense. Sure, the Caps had shots – 292 shots on goal for the series (41.7 a game), but a lot of that was a product of shots taken from far and wide, not near and close. Montreal blocked 182 shots in the series (26.0), an amazing number when you realize that they recorded only 192 shots on goal of their own.

There was the bewildering impotence of Alexander Semin. A 40-goal scorer in the regular season, Semin was held without a goal on 44 shots. That only tells the half of it… well, not quite half. Semin attempted 95 shots in the seven games. Blind luck – a bounce, a deflection off a stick, sunspots – should have resulted in one goal somewhere in there.

Mike Green came up empty again. After recording no goals in last year’s second round loss to the Penguins – a result that might be explained away by injury – he recorded none this time around on 23 shots of his own. What’s more, he led the Caps in penalty minutes – six minors for holding (twice), tripping, delay-of-game, elbowing, and cross checking. That last cross checking penalty led directly to the first Montreal goal of Game 7. It was a silly penalty to take, committed in the offensive zone against Andrei Markov 15 feet from a referee.

The Captain had five goals and five assists for the series, but Alex Ovechkin was 1-1-2, minus-2 in the final three games of the series, all Caps losses. And, he seemed to cross a fine line between firing up his teammates and showing too much frustration with the scrums he found himself involved in after whistles late in the series.

Semyon Varlamov – the hero of the first round series last season – could not duplicate his heroics this time around in relief of Jose Theodore. In fact, in his last 13 playoff games (last year’s second round series and this year’s first round series), he is 6-7, 3.12, .902. This is not the line of a goaltender likely to realize success in the playoffs.

The top two lines of Ovechkin, Backstrom, Knuble, Laich, Semin, and Eric Belanger accounted for 14 of the 22 goals the Caps scored in the series. Twelve of those were accounted for by the top line of Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Knuble. The second line of Semin, Laich, and Belanger was outscored (two goals) by Eric Fehr (three goals). The trouble with that statistic, as much as the raw comparison, is that Fehr scored his three goals in an average of 11 minutes of ice time a game. Laich and Semin averaged more than 19 minutes of ice time.

The bottom half of the forward lines managed six goals, half of those by Fehr. Conspicuously absent from the goal-scoring record was 23-goal scorer (in the regular season) Tomas Fleischmann, who now has one playoff goal in his last 12 playoff games since potting the game-winner in Game 1 of last year’s second round series against Pittsburgh. He was, in fact, benched for Game 7 in favor of Scott Walker in an attempt to get a larger measure of grit into the lineup.

Walker played only 6:47 in that Game 7, none in the last 15:11 of the contest. It was a disappointing end to his season after being obtained from the Carolina Hurricanes at the trading deadline. And if the object of the exercise at the trading deadline was to tweak the Caps’ lineup for the playoff phase of the season and provided added depth, it did not work out as planned. In the playoffs, Eric Belanger, Scott Walker, and Joe Corvo combined for one goal and two assists while going minus-2 in 15 combined man-games. Milan Jurcina – also picked up at the deadline – did not play, a result of sports hernia surgery he had that would have delayed his appearance in the playoffs to a later round that the Caps did not get to play.

Then there was the matter of what was going on behind the bench. A playoff series is a continuing dance of adjustment and readjustment. Perhaps no adjustment Montreal made paid greater dividends than taking Marc-Andre Bergeron – a liability as a defenseman, but a dangerous power play weapon – and moving him to seventh defenseman/fourth line forward. In the first four games of the series, during which the Caps built that 3-1 lead in games, Bergeron was 0-1-1 and was a ghastly minus-8. He was on the ice for eight of the 19 goals the Caps scored in those games. Giving him an average of more than 22 minutes a night was not working. He was pared back to less than seven minutes, limiting the liability he displayed on the defensive end, but keeping him in the lineup to deploy on power plays. It was his power play goal in Game 7 that got the Canadiens the first goal and allowed them to dictate pace and style for much of the rest of the contest.

The Caps had no answer behind their bench to Montreal’s adjustments in Games 5-7. One could say it was a hot goaltender – and Jaroslav Halak did stop 131 of 134 shots in those games (.978 save percentage) – but the Caps never really made things difficult for the Canadiens’ netminder, either, despite the large shot volumes. Too often, the Caps were taking shots from the perimeter and not getting them to the net where Mike Knuble or Brooks Laich might do some damage on rebounds. Too many shots were being blocked (83 in the last three games), frustrating the Capitals certainly, but not leading to much in the way of productive adjustments to find better shooting lanes and angles.

In an odd way, this series ended up resembling another recent series played by these two organizations -- the 2007 Calder Cup finals played by Washington's Hershey Bears and Montreal's Hamilton Bulldogs.  That, too, was a series played with a high-powered offense on one side (Hershey, which finished second in goals scored during that regular season) and a hot goalie on the other (Carey Price, a late season addition to the Bulldogs).  Hershey was surprised by the Bulldogs in a first game loss (a 4-0 shutout at the hands of Price) before righting themselves in Game 2.  But the Bears could not find a way to solve Price thereafter, the goalie allowing only five goals on 105 shots in the final three games of the series, all Hamilton wins.  Coincidentally, the Bulldogs clinched the series with a 2-1 win.  Many of the Bears who skated in that game skated for the Caps in the Montreal series -- Jeff Schultz, Tomas Fleischmann, David Steckel, and Mike Green.  But there was also a common factor behind the benches in Hershey and Washington -- Coach Bruce Boudreau.  In 2007 and 2010, the Bears/Caps could not/did not find a way or make the adjustments needed to find success.  Coaching cannot be absolved of those results.

What became evident as the playoffs moved on past the first round was that the Caps simply weren’t willing to pay a high enough price to make plays. They played a “regular season” style of game, perhaps thinking that the sheer difference in skill between their skaters and Montreal’s would carry the day. It did not. It is a lesson one would think the Caps would have learned by this time, having now lost three Game 7’s in their past four playoff rounds.

It speaks directly to a comment made by R.J. Umberger, ridiculed when he made it after his Columbus Blue Jackets lost to the Caps in early April, but wise now…

"I don't think any team in the West would be overmatched by them. They play the wrong way. They want to be moving all the time. They float around in their zone, looking for breakaways and odd-man rushes. A good defensive team is going to beat them (in the playoffs). If you eliminate your turnovers and keep them off the power play, they're going to get frustrated because they're in their zone a lot."

Montreal did not keep the Caps off their power play – the Caps averaged almost a full power play opportunity more per game (4.71) than they did in the regular season (3.82). But Montreal succeeded in taking the power play away from the Caps as a weapon. The Canadiens committed only 82 turnovers (their giveaways plus Washington takeaways) to 108 for the Caps. And, the Canadiens won the turnover battle in each of the four games they won.

In the end, it was (as we pointed out at the time) a failure for the Caps – in the game, in the series and for the season. A team coming off three consecutive division championships, two consecutive 100-point seasons, and a President’s Cup in this past regular season cannot look at a first-round playoff loss as being anything but failure. As the playoff message said, “nothing else matters.” It was not speaking of regular season results, but of winning a Stanley Cup. And that is why Game 7 – another disappointment – matters and matters so much.

The 2009-2010 season, by the "tens" -- Ten Games That Mattered: Montreal at Washington, April 17th

Only two more to go in this look at ten games that mattered in 2009-2010. But now, we’re into the playoff phase of the season, which brings us to…

April 17: Montreal at Washington, Game 2, Eastern Conference Quarterfinals

The Result: Capitals 6 – Canadiens 5 (OT)

The Background: A number one seed facing a number eight seed at home should not have the word “desperate” attached to it in Game 2 of the opening round of the playoffs. However, these being the Capitals, with a long history of playoff disappointment, losing Game 1 in overtime to the Montreal Canadiens put the club in a must-win position. Four times in franchise history the Caps dropped the first two games of a playoff series, and in none of them did they come back to win (correction: as our anonymous commenter points out, the Caps did lose the first two games to the Rangers last year and came back to win, making it one in five tries...our short term memory is not what it was). In fact, they ended up being swept in two of those series and won only a single game in the other two. Dropping the first two games at home, regardless of the relative seedings of the teams, would likely spell a quick and quiet exit from the playoffs for the league’s top regular season team.

Why It Mattered: If the Caps were desperate, they did not respond with resolve but rather with jitters to start the game. Brian Gionta got the visitors off and running early, potting a goal on the Canadiens’ first shot at the one-minute mark, a drive that ticked off the blade of defenseman Tom Poti’s stick and dipped under goalie Jose Theodore’s pads. The Caps followed up by feeding five shots at Montreal goalie Jaroslav Halak, but only one of them coming from inside of 30 feet from the net. That served as prelude to Andrei Kostitsyn collecting a loose puck at the Capitals’ line, darting toward the middle, and rifling a shot off the goalpost and behind Theodore on the Canadiens’ second shot of the game. The puck clanging off the post was almost the bell ringing on the end of Theodore’s night and perhaps the end of his Capitals career as Semyon Varlamov hopped over the boards to replace Theodore in net for the second consecutive playoff season.

The string of four unanswered Montreal goals, going back to the third period of Game 1, was ended when the Canadiens got sloppy with the puck. Andrei Markov tried to feed the puck from the left point to Andrei Kostitsyn in the middle, but Kostitsyn lost his focus for a split-second, allowing the puck to hop over his stick and onto the stick of Tomas Fleischmann. The Caps winger found Eric Fehr breaking behind the Montreal defense and hit him cleanly for a breakaway. Fehr outraced Marc-Andre Bergeron and flipped the puck past Halak to halve the Canadiens’ lead, making it a game again.

Well, sort of. After the intermission, Kostitsyn atoned for his error at the 8:54 mark to restore the Habs two-goal margin, then completed his hat trick with only 2:16 left in the second period on a power play to give the Canadiens a seemingly insurmountable three goal lead going into the third period, except…

With the clock approaching 90 seconds left in the period, Joe Corvo fired a shot from the right point that sailed wide on the far side and around to Nicklas Backstrom on the left wing boards. Backstrom corralled the puck, took a couple of steps down the boards, wound up, held his position as Mike Knuble worked himself into screening position, then fired the puck past the shielded Halak to get the Caps within two at the second intermission.

The third period became a showcase for a most unlikely player – unlikely, that is, if you weren’t aware of his ability to step up in big games so far in his young career. Less than three minutes into the final period Mathieu Darche tried to clear the puck out of the Montreal end but managed only to put the puck on the stick of Capitals defenseman John Carlson. The young defenseman looked for a shooting opportunity and not finding one, coolly took a step to his right to avoid a sliding Darche. Carlson then wound and fired, the puck sailing off a leaping Matt Bradley trying to avoid the shot and into a clot of bodies at the Canadiens’ crease. From there, Alex Ovechkin poked the puck under Halak to get the Caps within a goal.

The momentum that had been swinging toward the Caps since the last two minutes of the second period swung further in that direction when a scrum broke out at the 3:30 mark of the period. Things started as a result of Benoit Pouliot splitting the Caps defense and getting a shot on Varlamov just before Pouliot, Varlamov, and two Caps piled into the net. As they were untangling, Brian Gionta and Alex Ovechkin got tangled up, then Scott Gomex went looking for Ovechkin. After some milling around at the boards, Tom Poti and Gomez went at it in one of the more unlikely fights one might imagine.

The Caps drew some more strength in an odd way by then killing off a penalty to Alexander Semin for tripping Bergeron. Then the Caps did it the way you would draw it up. Ovechkin rushed down the right side of the ice, pushing the Canadiens’ defense back as Mike Knuble was driving to the net. Ovechkin got a shot off, but it was blocked by defenseman Roman Hamrlik. The loose puck was won by Ovechkin, who then centered the puck for Nicklas Backstrom, sneaking in behind Tomas Plekanec. Backstrom converted the feed into a shot that eluded Halak, and the Caps were even.

The momentum did not last long, or at least long enough. Plekanec, a consistent thorn in the Caps’ side over his career, got the visitors back on top with a goal with just over five minutes to go. It looked as if that two-games-to-none curse was going to visit the Caps once more. But with the clock showing less than two minutes left in regulation, Mike Cammalleri slashed the stick out of the hands of Alex Ovechkin, a delayed penalty call coming as a result. Nicklas Backstrom took control of the puck before Montreal could get a whistle, snaking his way through the neutral zone and over the Montreal blue line. From there he dished the puck to his left onto the stick of Carlson, who used defenseman Josh Gorges as a screen and wristed the puck over Halak’s pad to tie the game with just 81 seconds left in regulation.

Overtime didn’t last long. Tom Poti got the last play started by sending the puck up ice from deep in the Caps’ end to Mike Knuble exiting the zone. Knuble gave the puck a gentle push up to Nicklas Backstrom, then made a bee line for the net. Knuble’s rush toward the net had the effect of backing off the Montreal defense and perhaps providing a bit of a distraction for Halak. Backstrom made the most of the opportunity by skating in and sending a wrist shot through the legs of Hamrlik, over the glove of Halak, and off the post for the game-winner 31 seconds into overtime, tying the series and perhaps saving the Caps’ season.

The Takeaway: Ovechkin and Backstrom – the go-to guys with the 100-point seasons – finished the night with four points apiece. They switched roles in doing it, Ovechkin getting a goal and three assists, Backstrom getting the hat trick and an assist. Theirs were inspiring performances for a team that demonstrated an ability to come back from deficits all season, even multi-goal deficits in the third period. But for all the fireworks off the sticks of Ovechkin and Backstrom, the performance of John Carlson was an announcement that he was going to be a force to be reckoned with on this team as well. Ovechkin and Backstrom might have earned the stars for the game, but Carlson – with his uncanny sense of timing – might have been the hero.

The 2009-2010 season, by the "tens" -- Ten Games That Mattered: Atlanta at Washington, April 9th

Seven down and three to go in our look at the ten games that mattered this season for the Washington Capitals. Number eight just happens to be the last of the regular season games and features some important numbers…

April 9: Atlanta (34-33-13) at Washington (53-15-12)

Result: Capitals 5 – Thrashers 2

The Background: So many opportunities for reaching landmarks… The Washington Capitals have not been known as an offensive powerhouse for the largest part of their history. More a “meat and potatoes” as far as team identity is concerned, the club never had two players hit the 100-point mark in the same season, and the Caps never had a player score 50 goals in three consecutive years (Dennis Maruk and Alex Ovechkin were the only Caps to do it in two consecutive seasons). With 118 points coming into the game, the Capitals were poised to become the first non-original six team to reach 120 standings points in a season. And, the Caps entered the game with a franchise overall record of 1,214-1,214-303-71 in their 35-year history with a chance to go over .500 for the first time in franchise history.

Why It Mattered: For all the potential to reach milestones, the Caps played a rather lackluster game to start the contest. They peppered Thrasher goalie Ondrej Pavelec with 16 shots in the opening frame but managed only a single goal, that off the stick of Nicklas Backstrom. It got worse for the Capitals in the second period when Evgeni Artyukhin tied the game eleven minutes into the period by sending what looked like a harmless crossing feed from the left wing boards off the skate of Brendan Morrison, who was patrolling at the inside of the left wing faceoff circle. Then, Clarke MacArthur stole a puck on the Capitals power play less than two minutes later and potted a shorthanded goal on a breakaway to give the Thrashers the lead, 2-1.

The Caps stopped the bleeding by doing something they did well. Atlanta was sloppy exiting their own zone, and Alexander Semin swiped an attempted pass from Arturs Kulda at the Atlanta blue line before it could reach Evander Kane. Semin found Alex Ovechkin skating down the left side and put the puck on his tape, giving Ovechkin a chance to one time the puck past Pavelec, who appear to stub his toe in the ice trying to push across and stumbled, for the tying goal, Ovechkin’s 49th on the season.

In the third period, with the clock approaching the ten-minute mark, Backstrom led a charge out of the Caps end with Alexander Semin and Alex Ovechkin. Backstrom fed Semin heading up the right side of the ice, and as Semin entered the Thrasher zone he fed Ovechkin coming late on the 3-on-2 rush. Ovechkin cut into the middle behind Backstrom, who was driving to the net. With the congestion in front of him as a screen, Ovechkin sent a wrist shot past Pavelec for his 50th goal of the season, Backstrom getting an assist to notch his 100th point.

The goal seemed to awaken the Caps. Tomas Fleischmann rang a post two minutes later, then seconds later Jason Chimera took a feed from Eric Belanger and found the back of the net to put the Caps up by a pair. Less than a minute later, Joe Corvo picked up a loose puck and pitched it into an open area of the ice in the neutral zone. Semin took over from there, circling into the zone and snapping the puck toward the Thrasher net. Pavelec made the initial save, but Backstrom caught the Thrasher defense looking at the play, knifing down the middle and snapping the rebound past Pavelec to provide the final score in the 5-2 win.

The Takeaway: In a season of regular season achievement, this game provided the Caps with more than a few milestones…

-- Alex Ovechkin hit the 50-goal mark for the third consecutive year, the only Caps ever to accomplish the feat

-- Ovechkin’s 50 goals represented the fourth time in his five-year career that he did so, becoming only the third player in NHL history to do it, joining Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy.

-- Nicklas Backstrom became the fourth Capital to hit the 100-point mark, joining Ovechkin, Dennis Maruk, and Mike Gartner in hitting that plateau.

-- Backstrom and Ovechkin became the first Capitals teammates to reach 100 points in the same season.

-- Ovechkin and Backstrom were only the eighth pair of teammates to hit 50 goals and 100 points in the same game, the first to do it since Craig Simpson and Mark Messier accomplished it in 1988.

-- The Caps matched their franchise high of 30 wins on home ice in a single season.

-- The Ovechkin-Backstrom-Semin line finished 4-5-9, plus-11 for the game, although in perhaps a harbinger of things to come Semin recorded 11 shots on goal without any of them finding the back of the net.

-- Jeff Schultz finished a plus-4, making him plus-48, cementing his taking the top spot in plus-minus in club history (he would finish plus-50, including going plus-11 in his last three games of the regular season).

-- The Caps, who were presented the President’s Trophy before the game for having the league’s top record in the regular season, became only the eighth club in NHL history to hit the 120 point mark and the only non-original six team to do it.

-- Finally, in their 35th season, the Caps climbed over the .500 mark in franchise history.

It was the last home game in a season of considerable team and individual regular season achievement, and when the horn sounded to end this game it seemed as if this would be only the beginning of a special season.