Sunday’s regular season finale to the 2013-14 NHL season in Washington meant something in the standings to only one of the two teams on the ice, the Tampa Bay Lightning. With a win over the host Capitals on Sunday afternoon, the Lightning would record the third 100-point season in their NHL history and it would secure the home-ice advantage for its opening-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens.
For the host Capitals, it was the third of three straight meaningless games at the tail end of the team’s most disappointing regular season in a decade. But Washington didn’t roll over for the Bolts. The game was far from engaging, but the Bolts needed a shootout to record the 1-0 victory they needed to accomplish their mission for the afternoon.
“Character in the room,” says Caps right wing Troy Brouwer, on his team’s strong performance in its last two home games, both of them meaningless exhibitions from a Washington standpoint. “Our fans have stuck with us all season long, good and bad. We didn’t want to quit for them. We were hoping that we would have a lot of fans here for our last two games, we were very pleased that they still decided to support us after missing the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons. We wanted to play for them more than we wanted to play for ourselves.”
The Bolts outshot the Caps 11-3 in the first and 10-4 in the second. The Caps got their first and only power play of the game early in the third, and they poured shots on Lightning goaltender Anders Lindback, but were unable to break through with the go-ahead goal.
At the other end of the ice, Caps goaltender Braden Holtby was also stellar. The only puck that got behind him didn’t get behind him during the actual hockey game, but in the postgame skill competition the NHL uses to determine which team gets to have two points after games in which 65 minutes of hockey ends in a tie.
With the loss to the Lightning, the Caps finish the season with a 38-30-14 record, three points south of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Caps put on late-season surges to sneak into the playoffs in each of the last two seasons, but were unable to get it going in time in 2013-14.
“We’ve had this group of guys here for a long time,” says Caps forward Eric Fehr, “and we know what’s expected of us. I think everybody was thinking the exact same thing ‘We’re going to pull out of it, it’s going to happen, we’re going to pull out of it.’ That we are going to be okay. And, it didn’t happen this time. Maybe shame on us looking in hindsight, but I think everyone in here had the confidence that we were going to be able to turn it around and do it without a big blowout meeting.”
Back-to-Back Blankings – Sunday’s game was the second straight game in which a Washington netminder recorded a shutout. It’s the first pair of shutouts in consecutive contests by the Capitals in more than a decade, since Olie Kolzig authored back-to-back whitewashings of Florida and Boston, respectively, on Jan. 12 and 14, 2002.
Iron Men – Kudos to the seven Capitals who remained healthy enough to appear in all 82 of Washington’s games this season. Karl Alzner, Nicklas Backstrom, Brouwer, Carlson, Jason Chimera, Joel Ward and Tom Wilson each suited up for the Capitals’ entire slate of games this season.
Debut – Forward Peter LeBlanc made his NHL debut in Sunday’s game, skating 9:26 on the day and recording two hits and a blocked shot.
LeBlanc was the ninth player to make his NHL regular season debut with the Capitals this season. He joins Julien Brouillette, Connor Carrick, Nicolas Deschamps, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Michael Latta, Nate Schmidt, Patrick Wey and Tom Wilson in achieving that distinction.
Drawing Blanks – Sunday’s whitewashing of Washington was the eighth time this season that the Capitals have suffered that fate, and the sixth time this
season they’ve been blanked in their own barn.
The eight shutouts is the most suffered in a season by the Capitals since they were blanked 11 times in 1998-99. The six shutouts on home ice are the most suffered by Washington on home ice since Year One, 1974-75. In their maiden voyage in the NHL that season, the Caps were shutout a dozen times with nine of them occurring on the Capital Centre sheet.
Bad Company – The Capitals finished the 2013-14 regular season with just 28 wins in regulation and overtime in their 82 games played. That’s only four more than they recorded in the 48-game, lockout-truncated 2012-13 season.
Only four teams finished the ’13-14 campaign with fewer regulation and overtime victories than the Capitals: Edmonton (25), the New York Islanders (25), Florida (21) and Buffalo (19).
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears finished up a busy weekend with a scoreless tie of their own on Sunday afternoon at Giant Center. But the sellout crowd was spared the indignity of a shootout when Bears captain Dane Byers scored his 15th goal of the season with help from David Kolomatis and Nate Schmidt at 2:24 of the extra session to give Hershey a pair of important points.
Hershey goaltender Philipp Grubauer stopped all 41 shots he faced to record his third shutout of the season and raise his record to 13-11-2-2.
With the victory, the Bears maintained their share of eighth place in the AHL’s Eastern Conference standings. With three games remaining in the regular season, both the Bears and the Norfolk Admirals have 86 points. Hershey owns the tiebreaker; it has two more regulation and overtime victories than the Admirals.
Hershey visits Norfolk for a pair of decisive games later this week, on Wednesday and Friday nights at The Scope in Norfolk. The Bears then host Adirondack on Saturday in their regular season finale at Giant Center.
Down a level, the ECHL Reading Royals set out to defend their 2013 Kelly Cup title beginning on Thursday when they host the Fort Wayne Komets in Game 1 of a best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.
By The Numbers – John Carlson led the Capitals with 25:46 in ice time … Brouwer, Nicklas Backstrom and Joel Ward paced Washington with three shots on goal each … Wilson led the way for Washington with five hits … Backstrom and Carrick led the way for the Caps with three blocked shots each … Jay Beagle won five of seven (71%) draws and Backstrom won 12 of 20 (60%) … Twenty-one of Washington’s 82 games went to a shootout. That’s the most in the NHL.