Washington put the 2018-19 regular season to bed on Saturday night, falling 3-0 to the New York Islanders at Capital One Arena. It's the second time in as many visits to the District this season that the Isles shutout the Caps; New York took a 2-0 win here on Jan. 18.
Most importantly, the Caps learned the identity of their first-round opponent in the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs: the Carolina Hurricanes. The Caps and Canes have been in the same division for two decades and have never faced each other in the postseason. That will change this week.
Robin Lehner stopped all 29 shots he faced to earn his sixth shutout and the Islanders' 11th shutout of the season. Thomas Greiss blanked the Caps here in January.
Saturday's finale was a mere tune-up for the Capitals, who clinched the Metro Division title with a 2-1 win over Montreal on Thursday. The Caps rested a trio of regulars and goaltender Braden Holtby in preparation for the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
For the Islanders, Saturday's game had meaning. A win - or even an overtime or shootout loss - would give them the home ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs, a luxury they have not enjoyed since 1988. New York also secured the Jennings Trophy for fewest goals against during the season, an incredible achievement for the team that surrendered the most goals in the league in 2017-18.
New York is the first NHL team in 100 years to engineer a worst-to-first turnaround in team goals against.
"It's pretty special," says Lehner of the Jennings, "but it's not just me and [Greiss]. I see this as a team award. Just the way we fought all year, everyone buying into our game plan and playing defense and blocking shots. It's been a collective effort from the whole team, and it's pretty special."
All that said, the game had all the luster of an early preseason contest. The Isles played well enough to get what they wanted out of the contest.
Video: Postgame Locker Room | April 6
"I think the toughest game of the year to get through is probably tonight," says Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen. "It was a snoozefest for us. Give [the Islanders] credit; that team over there, they played pretty stifling. They played how they had to to get a win.
"But now, it's on for us. I think guys are excited for that, to play for real, and no more pretending."
Washington's best scoring chances in Saturday's loss were a pair of shots that rang iron; Andre Burakovsky hit the pipe in the first and Tom Wilson did so early in the third.
After a scoreless first period, Valtteri Flippula staked the Isles to a 1-0 lead, taking a springing feed from Devon Toews and beating Pheonix Copley on a breakaway at 2:55 of the second period.
Filppula netted his second goal of the night midway through the third, and Matt Martin tacked on an empty-netter in the waning minutes to account for the 3-0 final.
Copley played well for Washington, stopping 18 of 20 shots he faced.
Video: Todd Reirden Postgame | April 6
"Certainly there is no secret that that game had a lot less meaning to our team than it did to theirs," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "We gave some players an opportunity, and some had a good night, some didn't. Either way, we gained experience out of it.
"We'll be better prepared and ready for Game 1, which is our biggest objective right now."