The Boston Bruins were the team with something to play for - ostensibly, anyway - when they and the Capitals hooked up for a Saturday matinee match in Beantown on the final weekend of the 2016-17 NHL regular season. The Bruins went into Saturday's game knowing that a win of any kind would enable them to avoid the Caps in the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Boston started its backup goaltender and seemed only mildly interested all afternoon, and the Caps never trailed en route to a fourth straight win, 3-1 over the Bruins. Philipp Grubauer made 21 saves to earn his 13th win of the season, and Kevin Shattenkirk supplied what would prove to be the game-winning goal late in the second period for Washington, which was merely seeking to keep playing well on Saturday. The Caps sewed up their second straight Metropolitan Division crown and Presidents' Trophy earlier in the week.
Video: Williams, Grubauer lead Capitals past Bruins, 3-1
Saturday's result didn't supply any more clarity to the playoff picture; the Caps left the building after the game with four possible first-round opponents: Boston, Toronto, Tampa Bay and the New York Islanders. Toronto and the Islanders play later on Saturday, and both teams play on Sunday as well, as does Tampa Bay. Boston is in the clubhouse with 94 points; the Bruins finished their regular season with Saturday's loss to the Capitals.
"I think we managed the game pretty well," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "We tried to stay with good structure and pretty good detail. I thought we managed the puck pretty good; we had a couple of times during the game where we got away from that a little bit.
Video: Coach Trotz after victory in Boston
"But we stayed composed. I thought we managed the third period when we got the lead so [there were] a lot of good things."
Playing in his 500th career NHL game, Marcus Johansson got the Caps started early, scoring to put Washington up 1-0 on its first shot on goal of the game. After taking a feed from Justin Williams, Johansson put a move on Bruins goalie Anton Khudobin and neatly tucked the puck behind him at 4:21 of the first.
Video: WSH@BOS: Johansson scores on pretty give-and-go
For the second time in as many games, the Bruins lost a top four defenseman in the first period. After taking a hit from Caps captain Alex Ovechkin in the corner of the Boston zone, rookie Bruins blueliner Brandon Carlo departed for the remainder of the afternoon because of an upper body injury. The Bruins lost defenseman Torey Krug (lower body) in the first period of Thursday's 2-1 shootout loss to the Senators.
Boston pulled even on a Washington turnover late in the second period. The Caps' weren't able to exit their zone cleanly, and the puck rolled back down toward the Washington net, where B's winger Drew Stafford collected it and went right to the net with it. He tried to make a move and lost control of the puck, as a trio of Caps converged on him from behind. But Bruins blueliner Colin Miller was right there to fire it home, tying the game at 1-1 at 15:13 of the middle period.
There was a video review of Miller's goal to determine whether the puck entered the net before it was knocked off its moorings, and the call was upheld. Incredibly, it would be the first of four video reviews between that point and the end of the middle period.
Washington needed less than a minute with which to regain its lead. Nicklas Backstrom carried into Boston ice and left the puck for Ovechkin. Ovechkin returned it to Backstrom at the inside of the left circle, and the Caps center carried lower into the zone, patiently waiting for an option to present itself. Seeing Shattenkirk creep in from the right point, Backstrom fed him perfectly and Shattenkirk did the rest, beating Khudobin to restore the Caps' lead at 2-1 at the 16:09 mark of the second.
Video: WSH@BOS: Shattenkirk buries Backstrom's pinpoint feed
Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara knocked the net off just as the puck entered, but a subsequent video review upheld the goal, and play resumed.
Just over a minute later (at 17:31), Shattenkirk pumped another puck behind Khudobin, this one from center point. The Bruins challenged the call, alleging goaltender interference. Video review showed a Bruins defender ever so slightly nudged Williams into Khudobin, causing the goaltender to spin around and fling his stick away. That was enough for the officials to wipe the goal off the board, keeping the Caps lead at a single goal, at 2-1.
Video: WSH@BOS: Williams capitalizes on crisp passing
With less than a minute remaining in the period, Williams finished off a pair of pretty passes from Nate Schmidt and Evgeny Kuznetsov, cranking a one-timer high into the far corner with 49.3 seconds left in the second. For this one, video review was used to verify that the puck did go in and out of the net, rather than merely glancing off the crossbar.
The Caps managed their lead splendidly in the third, rarely permitting Boston much in the way of looks at the Washington net or scoring chances. The win was Washington's ninth straight over the Bruins, and it leaves the Caps with a record of 11-1-1 in their last 13 games.
Video: Caps players talk after a 3-1 win in Boston
Washington now heads home to host the Florida Panthers on Sunday in its regular season finale. The Caps aren't likely to learn the identity of their first-round opponent until sometime late Sunday, so their focus now shifts to facing Florida to close out the their 16th set of back-to-back games this season.