May 11 vs. Boston Bruins at Capital One Arena
Time: 7 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, 99.1 FM
Boston Bruins 33-15-7
Washington Capitals 35-15-5
The Caps conclude the 2020-21 NHL regular season on Tuesday night when they host the Boston Bruins at Capital One Arena. And in the aftermath of Boston's 3-2 overtime victory over the New York Islanders on Monday night, we've learned that the Bruins will also be the Capitals' first-round playoff opponent.
In addition to Tuesday night's regular season finale in the District, Washington will also host the Bruins for the first two games of their upcoming best-of-seven first-round series. Game 1 of that set will be played on Saturday night at Capital One Arena.
Tuesday's game holds no meaning or standings value for either the Caps or the Bruins; for all intents and purposes it is a playoff tune-up contest at best. Speaking on Monday afternoon before the identity of his team's playoff opponent was revealed, Caps coach Peter Laviolette noted the importance of going into the postseason on a high note.
"We're going want to win the game [Tuesday] night," says Laviolette. "You're going to be seeing one of these teams, you're going to want to play well, you're going to want to end the season on a good note.
The Caps coach then made a pre-emptive quote about which team he might rather face in the first round, when both the Bruins and the Islanders were stilll first-round possibilities for the Capitals.
Video: Peter Laviolette | May 10
"Don't ask me which one I'd rather play," says Laviolette. "There's a big mistake that goes with that. You pick your opponent, and you get your opponent, and then you get waxed in four straight. They're both really good teams and we know we're going to have to play well to beat them. And so whoever it is, we'll be ready to play.
"Our division was tough. The four teams that made it are all good teams, they all had winning percentages in the .600s and are just really good teams. We know it's going to be tough no matter what in the first round."
It'll be especially tough if the Caps don't get some key players back in their lineup between now and Saturday's series opener. When it staged a late comeback on Saturday night to overcome the Philadelphia Flyers 2-1 in overtime, Washington did so without the services of captain Alex Ovechkin and alternate captains Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson, all of whom missed the game with lower body injuries. T.J. Oshie left the game late in the second period with a lower body injury, and Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ilya Samsonov both missed the game because they're on the COVID-19 protocol list.
While Ovechkin, Backstrom and Carlson all participated in Monday's full practice at MedStar Capitals Iceplex, Oshie, Kuznetsov and Samsonov did not. With nothing tangible at stake on Tuesday, it's possible that both sides sit some regulars to allow them to nurse ailments a few days longer. But Laviolette has had to dress a short lineup in three of the last four games. He says if players are healthy, they'll play.
"If a player is cleared to play and 100 percent healthy, I'm not going to hold them out of a game," says the Caps coach. "Alex won't want to be held out of a game. He is trying to get back on the ice. When it comes to the players, generally speaking, if they're healthy, they can play. If they're not 100 percent healthy or if it's in the best interest of the player not to play in that game, then we won't play them."
Washington made some adjustments to its taxi squad crew on Monday, sending defenseman Paul Ladue and center Mike Sgarbossa back to AHL Hershey and recalling center Philippe Maillet, defenseman Martin Fehervary and goaltender Pheonix Copley from the Bears. The Caps' lineup could be in a state of flux not only for Tuesday's regular season finale, but for Saturday's series opener against the Bruins.
Video: Caps 365 | May 10
"We're going to assess how things came out today," said Laviolette after Monday's practice. "There is nobody in blue [non-contact] jerseys out there. There's nobody that went light, everybody went hard. And we'll evaluate that and make those decisions [Tuesday] just for the game [Tuesday]. From there, there could be three days, five days, six days before the next game. So I'm hopeful that we'll have players back."
Although Washington's streak of division crowns came to a halt at five, the Caps are happy to have home ice advantage for at least the first round.
"When you start the year, you have one goal and that goal is to win the Stanley Cup," says Caps right wing Garnet Hathaway. "But there's a lot of steps to get there, and there's ways to make that journey a little more in your favor. Statistically, probably the odds are better if you can start at home.
"So it's a big step for us it's one that we take a lot of pride in. We want to continue to play our best hockey and we want to close out strong. We have a last game at home that we can play a great team at home and be ready for the playoffs for the next game that's going to be at home too. Right now, I think it's playoff mode and we're going to have to play the next one like it's Game 1."