Washington reaches the end of its regular season schedule tonight when it hosts the New Jersey Devils at Capital One Arena on Saturday night. As the NHL heads into its final weekend of the regular season, the Caps know they've made the playoffs and they'll play the first two games of their first-round series on home ice. What they don't know yet is the identity of their first-round opponent.
New Jersey is a possibility, along with Columbus and Philadelphia. According to sportsclubstats.com, the Caps have a 34 percent chance of facing Columbus, a 34 percent chance of facing Philadelphia, and a 32 percent chance of drawing the Devils as their first-round foe. Let the one-game coin flip tournament begin!
Video: Two-Man Advantage | April 7
"There is not a lot on the line for us. But it is a real game, and a potential first-round opponent, and it's the last one before the real thing starts so there is no sense in taking the foot off the gas now.
"I think it's important for us to go out there and to play the game really hard and to focus on the right details and don't take any shortcuts, so you don't get any bad habits. And keep your fingers crossed for no injuries."
Somber Saturday - The hockey community - from the NHL all the way down to youth hockey - is a tight-knit group. As the NHL heads into its final weekend of the regular season, the hockey community is reeling and in mourning from a devastating bus accident late Friday afternoon, an accident involving the Humboldt (Saskatchewan) Broncos of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.
Including the driver, there were 28 people aboard the Broncos' team bus. Fourteen people were fatally injured, and three of the survivors are in critical condition as of Saturday morning.
Video: Trotz on Humboldt Broncos
"My condolences go out to the Humboldt Broncos hockey club, the town of Humboldt and the families of all the young men who were tragically killed last night," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "Those young men were chasing a dream, they were proud of their community, and my heart goes out to them. A lot of our players in this league were chasing that same dream and were on the same busses along the way. That brings some reality to what we do for a living.
"For anybody who has been on those buses and traveled and done all that, the players come from all over, especially in Canada. For people who don't know, they're from all over Western Canada. They come and play in a small town, you're embraced by a small town and you're part of the small town. And you're chasing a dream to play in the Western Hockey league and hopefully move on to the pros.
"I left home at a young age - 16 years old - and you go and chase your dream a little bit, and your parents allow you to do that. It does hit a little bit [close to] home. But my heart goes out to them."
Bus travel is a familiar ritual to hockey teams at every level, and similar tragedies have occurred in the past, but not with this number of injuries and fatalities. The WHL Swift Current Broncos' bus crashed in Saskatchewan in 1986, killing four members of that team, including Brent Ruff, the younger brother of NHL player and future head coach Lindy Ruff.
More recently, the AHL Albany River Rats team bus crashed in Massachusetts in the winter of 2009, injuring a handful of players but fortunately none of them fatally. Former Caps goalie Justin Peters was on that bus, and his harrowing tale of the events of that night is unforgettable. Even NHL players spent countless hours every season riding buses.
Our sincerest condolences go out to the Humboldt Broncos and their families and friends, the town of Humboldt and the SJHL.
Video: Rinkside Update | Dmitry Orlov
Line 'Em Up. Or Rest 'Em Up - The Caps are resting right wing T.J. Oshie for Saturday night's game, Jay Beagle will miss a third straight game with an upper body injury, and Travis Boyd will sit out because of illness.
On the New Jersey side, the Devils will rest four key cogs - defenseman Sami Vatanen and forwards Taylor Hall, Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri - for the regular season finale. The Devils just nailed down their playoff berth on Thursday night with a 2-1 home ice win over the Toronto Maple Leafs; tonight's game represents their only chance to rest some regulars.
Video: Barry Trotz Pregame | April 7
In The Nets - Braden Holtby gets the net tonight for Washington, and he will be seeking his 34thvictory of the season. He has won five of his last seven starts (5-2-0), posting a 2.81 GAA and a .906 save pct. during that stretch. Lifetime in the month of April during the regular season, Holtby is 22-3-4 with three shutouts, a 2.08 GAA and a .933 save pct.
Holtby won his most recent start, a 4-2 win over the Blues in St. Louis on Monday night. He stopped 34 of the 36 shots he faced in that game. Lifetime against New Jersey, Holtby is 14-3-3 with four shutouts, a 1.93 GAA and a .927 save pct. in 20 appearances.
Video: Braden Holtby | April 6
For the Devils, Cory Schneider gets the start on Saturday. Since joining the Devils in a June, 2013 trade with Vancouver, Schneider has entered every season as New Jersey's go-to guy in goal. But that status changed this season after Schneider was sidelined with a groin injury in late January.
When he went on injured reserve, Schneider owned a 17-11-6 record, a shutout, a 2.79 GAA and a .913 save pct. Since returning to live action at the beginning of March, he has started four games, losing all four (0-4-0) and posting a 3.82 GAA and an .862 save pct. in the process. After appearing in 35 of New Jersey's first 47 games this season, Schneider's Saturday night start against Washington is his fifth appearance in the Devils' last 35 games.
Keith Kinkaid has become the new No. 1 in New Jersey, but he is getting a well-earned rest on Saturday. Kinkaid was instrumental in helping the Devils get back to the playoffs for the first time in six years this spring, posting a 19-6-1 record with a 2.53 GAA and a .922 save pct. since the NHL's All-Star break at the end of January.
Lifetime against the Capitals, Schneider is 3-8-2 with a shutout, a 2.50 GAA and a .912 save pct.
Video: Matt Niskanen Pregame | April 7
All Lined Up - Here is how we expect the Caps and the Devils to look when they take to the ice on Saturday night for the 2017-18 regular season finale at Capital One Arena:
8-Ovechkin, 92-Kuznetsov, 43-Wilson
65-Burakovsky, 19-Backstrom, 10-Connolly
13-Vrana, 20-Eller, 25-Smith-Pelly
63-Gersich, 18-Stephenson, 39-Chiasson
83-Beagle (upper body)
63-Bratt, 13-Hischier, 18-Stafford
44-Wood, 37-Zacha, 17-Maroon
39-Gibbons, 20-Coleman, 23-Noesen
40-Grabner, 11-Boyle, 10-Hayes