It was a hard-fought game that had more than a little playoff feel to it. Montreal pushed hard, but the Caps pushed back harder, getting a goal from a fourth-liner to clinch another division title, winning by a 2-1 margin.
Evgeny Kuznetsov had a fine chance in the first 20 seconds of the contest, breaking in alone on goalie Carey Price, but he ran out of room, and his attempt to bank the puck off Price from below the goal line failed to succeed. The Caps did not get another shot attempt for the next 4:14, until Alex Ovechkin got a shot on Price.
Montreal dominated territory for most of the rest of the period, but it was the Caps striking first in the last 90 seconds. It was just some basic hockey. A hard forecheck by Carl Hagelin on Christian Folin as he was circling out from behind the Montreal net separated the Canadien from the puck. Brett Connolly collected it and centered it to Lars Eller between the hash marks. Eller had time to pick his spot, snapping it past Price’s left pad to make it 1-0 at the 18:36 mark.
The Caps took a penalty with just over a minute left in the period, and it cost them. With Nicklas Backstrom in the penalty box for a high-sticking penalty, Shea Weber was all alone to the right of goalie Braden Holtby to jump on a loose puck and snap it past Holtby’s blocker to make it 1-1 with 28 seconds left in the period.
Montreal had a chance late, courtesy of Brendan Gallagher, but it was foiled, and the teams went to the locker room tied after 20 minutes.
-- Montreal had a 15-9 edge in shots on goal and dominated shot attempts, 27-11.
-- Lars Eller led the Caps with three shots on goal; he and Carl Hagelin had three shot attempts apiece.
-- Washington held a 14-7 edge in hits, reflecting Montreal’s possession edge.
Montreal opened the period with pressure, but once again, it was the Caps who struck first. Andre Burakovsky took advantage of a turnover at the Montreal blue line to control the puck along the right wing wall. He centered it for Nic Dowd, who kicked the puck to his forehand, and with Travis Boyd skating through the low slot to create a distraction, Dowd snapped a shot over Price’s glove and under the crossbar to make it 2-1, 2:58 into the period.
The pace was at times furious, but there was no more scoring, and the teams skated off at the end of the period with the Caps holding a 2-1 lead.
-- Washington had an 11-7 shots on goal advantage in the period, but the Canadiens had 21 shot attempts to the Caps’ 17.
-- Matt Niskanen had five blocked shots through two periods. No other Capital had more than one.
-- The defensive pair of Brooks Orpik and Christian Djoos were both plus-2 through two periods, although neither had a point of their own.
Both teams had chances, and Montreal played with ferocity in the last half of the period, but the Caps played a smart game, getting pucks deep and forcing the Canadiens to go 200 feet on most trips up ice. And when Nicklas Backstrom nudged the puck into the neutral zone as the clock hit zero, it was enough for the Caps to win, 2-1, and win their fourth consecutive Metropolitan Division title.
-- Braden Holtby won his fifth straight decision. He stopped 33 of 34 shots, making it 169 saves on 179 shots over his last six contests (.944 save percentage).
-- Alex Ovechkin finished with a team-high five shots on goal.
-- In an odd turn, T.J. Oshie did not record a shot attempt. He and defensemen Nick Jensen were the only Caps to do so.
-- Tom Wilson and Brooks Orpik were the big boppers with seven and six credited hits, respectively.
-- Wilson was credited with four takeaways to lead the team.
-- Montreal finished with a 72-44 edge in shot attempts.
-- The Caps had a 26-25 edge in faceoffs. It is the third straight game in which the Caps won more than 50 percent of their draws, the first time they were over 50 percent in three straight games since Games 15-17 against Columbus, Arizona, and Minnesota in November.
-- Lars Eller finished plus-1. That make 16 straight home games in which he is even or better in plus-minus rating.
-- Caps…one power play, no shots. Canadiens…one power play, one shot, one goal.
-- Did the Caps button things up in the end? You decide…Montreal did not get a shot on goal after they pulled Carey Price at the end.
In the end…
The Caps are Metro Division champs, again. Their fourth straight title. This matches the four straight titles that the Caps won in the old Southeast Division from 2007-2008 through 2010-2011. They can now rest players in the finale against the Islanders on Saturday, give some guys some ice time they did not get over the last six weeks, and let the other teams worry about seeding.