It did not start well for the Caps as the Blues jumped in front in the first 90 seconds of the game. It started with Vladimir Tarasenko setting up between the hash marks as Alex Pietrangelo circled with the puck behind the net. The Caps seemed a bit mesmerized by Pietrangelo as he came out with the puck to the right of goalie Braden Holtby. It was enough for Pietrangelo to find Tarasenko for a one-timer to give the Blues a 1-0 lead just 75 seconds into the contest.
It did not take long for the Caps to shake off the insult. Just as the clock passed the four minute mark, T.J. Oshie pinched down the wall to keep a loose puck out of the grips of Carl Gunnarsson. Nicklas Backstrom circled in to take control, then fed John Carlson at the top of the offensive zone. Carlson took advantage of two Blues closing on him. It gave Carlson the opportunity to slide the puck off to his left where Alex Ovechkin was waiting. A one-timer later, it was 1-1, and the Caps were off and running.
Less than three minutes later it was Ovechkin again. Backstrom took a faceoff to the right of Elliott in the Blues’ zone. With his second swipe at the puck, he pulled it back to Ovechkin, past the attempted steal by Robby Fabbri. It was a positional mistake by Fabbri, whose momentum left him out of position to do anything but turn his head around just as Ovechkin was settling the puck and snapping it past Elliott to make it 2-1 at the 6:49 mark.
In the third period, another pair of Caps got into the scoring column. John Carlson and Tom Wilson worked a lovely give-and-go, starting when Carlson fielded a pass at the top of the offensive zone from Brooks Orpik. Carlson turned and fed Tom Wilson at the right wing wall, then broke to the net behind Alexander Steen. Wilson froze Jori Lehtera with a look that said “shot,” then led Carlson for a tap in behind Elliott that gave the Caps a 3-1 lead 5:21 into the period.
A little more than five minutes later the Caps added another goal, courtesy of Jason Chimera. It started with Dmitry Orlov with a stretch pass to Evgeny Kuznetsov skating through the neutral zone. Kuznetsov circled into the Blues’ zone, weaved his way across the middle, faked a pass to Tom Wilson, then, as he pulled goalie Brian Elliott to defend against a shot, he whipped a backhand pass across the slot to a fast-closing Chimera, who batter the puck behind Elliott to make it 4-1 at the 10:56 mark.
There were two items of business left for the Caps in the third period. They checked one off the list mid-way through the period. T.J. Oshie stripped Jay Bouwmeester of the puck just outside the Caps’ blue line and fed it up to Nicklas Backstrom heading the other way. Backstrom led the Caps on a 3-on-1 rush. With the lone defender occupying Oshie in the middle, Backstrom floated a saucer pass to the left side where Alex Ovechkin one-timed it past Anders Nilsson, in goal in relief of Brian Elliott for the third period. It gave Ovechkin the hat trick and a 50-goal season for the seventh time in 11 NHL seasons.
That left the last order of business for the Caps, now all but assured with the bunches of goals. Braden Holtby stopped all ten shots he faced in the third period to secure his 48th win of the season, tying a record set by Martin Brodeur in 2006-2007 with the New Jersey Devils, the Caps skating off with the 5-1 win.
-- The Capitals became the ninth team in NHL history to win 56 or more games in a season. In doing so they became the first team in 39 years to do it without losing consecutive games in regulation (they will finish the season with that fact intact), the 1976-1977 Montreal Canadiens being the last team to do it on their way to a 60-8-12 season.
-- Washington also became just the ninth team in NHL history to reach 120 standings points in a season. They are one of three teams to have done it at least twice. Montreal has done it four times, while the Detroit Red Wings have done it twice.
-- Braden Holtby winning his 48th game and tying Martin Brodeur for the all-time record of wins in a season is an amazing accomplishment, but there is something even more remarkable about it. In none of the other instances of a goalie winning 45 or more games in a regular season did they record fewer than 20 regulation losses. Holtby has nine.
-- The greatest pure goal scorer I ever saw was Mike Bossy. But for his sheer consistency and reliability, it would be hard to top Alex Ovechkin. His hat trick gave him his seventh 50-goal season and sixth Maurice Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer, his fourth in a row (a record since the Trophy was first awarded after the 1998-1999 season). He became the first player in NHL history to record three-straight 50-goal seasons in two separate streaks. And consider this. After the 2011-2012 season, when he had “just” 38 goals in 78 games (his second straight season in which he did not reach the 40-goal mark), he was considered in decline. In the four seasons since, he has 186 goals. The second-ranked goal scorer over that period is San Jose’s Joe Pavelski, who has 131.
-- Jason Chimera recorded his 20th goal of the season in this game. It tied a career-high in goals scored for Chimera, set with the Caps in 2011-2012.
-- Nicklas Backstrom had three assists, his fourth game with three or more assists this season, tying him with teammate Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson for the league lead. It was his 31st career game with three or more assists, most in the league since he came into the NHL in 2007-2008.
-- John Carlson had a two-point game (goal, assist), giving him consecutive multi-point games and nine for the year in just 56 games. Since he returned from injury on March 25th, he has not gone consecutive games without a point and is 2-6-8 in nine games.
-- Mike Richards might not have had much action on the scoring side, but he did make his presence felt. In 14:28 of ice time, he had four hits and won 13 of 19 faceoffs (68.4 percent).
-- If there was a hole in the offense for the Caps, look to Andre Burakovsky and Marcus Johansson. Between them, they did not record a shot attempt.
-- St. Louis recorded the first three shot attempts, the last resulting in their only goal. After that, the Caps out attempted the Blues, 55-38, at 5-on-5, finishing the game with a 57.3 percent Corsi-for at fives. And it was something of a “score effect” that the final numbers were that close. The Caps had a 26-9 edge in shot attempts at 5-on-5 in the first period and a 15-12 edge in the second (numbers from war-on-ice.com).
In the end…
This might have been the best game the Caps played in the 2016 portion of the season. On the road, against an opponent they have a history of some struggles against (2-2-1 in St. Louis since the 2004-2005 lockout), and against a team that still had something to play for (a top-seed in the Central Division). One might have liked to see a Burakovsky or a Johansson make more of an impact, and one hopes that the injury Jay Beagle suffered when he took a shot off the inside of his ankle does not take him out of the lineup, but having the stars come up big was a big plus as the Caps wrapped up the road portion of their regular season schedule. It was a superb effort in all three periods in all three zones, just the tonic for the team and its fans as the playoffs are about to begin.