April 8 vs. Boston Bruins at TD Garden
Time: 3:00 p.m.
Radio: 104.7 FM, 1500 AM and Capitals Radio 24/7
Washington Capitals 54-18-8
Boston Bruins 44-30-6
Eighty games into the 2016-17 regular season, there is but one barn in the league the Capitals have yet to visit this season. That will be rectified on Saturday - the penultimate day of the regular season - when the Caps make their one and only visit to Boston to take on the Bruins. The contest is also the final road game of the campaign for the Caps, who will close out '16-17 at home on Sunday night against the Florida Panthers.
The Bruins are the Capitals' fourth consecutive playoff bound opponent, and all four are teams the Caps could encounter at some point during the postseason, if not during the first round. Washington has won each of the first three games of that series, downing the New York Rangers by a 2-0 count on Wednesday in the District in its most recent outing.
Video: Final road trip to Boston before the 2017 Playoffs
Wednesday's win over the Rangers also rendered the Caps' final two games of the regular season meaningless from a Washington standpoint; the Capitals clinched a second straight Metropolitan Division title and also laid claim to the NHL's best regular season record for the second season in succession. While the Bruins have clinched a playoff spot and will be playing their final game of the regular season on Saturday, the Bruins are embroiled in a tight chase with Ottawa and Toronto - and, at this point, possibly Tampa Bay and/or the New York Islanders - for playoff positioning and seeding.
Whichever team lands in the Eastern Conference's second wild card spot be rewarded with a first-round match-up against the Capitals, and that's a fate the Bruins, Senators and Maple Leafs would prefer to avoid if possible. As for Tampa Bay and the Islanders, they'd happily face the Caps in the first round, because that's the only way they'd be getting in.
For the Capitals now, the trick is to keep playing the way they've played over the course of their current three-game winning streak and the better part of their last dozen games overall, a stretch in which they've forged an impressive 10-1-1 mark.
Video: Rinkside Update: Kevin Shattenkirk
"We're going to try to just get through the weekend by playing the game hard and keeping our habits until next week," says Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen. "I think we've done a pretty good job of going hard and playing the game to win if we're going on the ice. We'll try to do that for a couple more games this weekend, even though we're all probably thinking about next week already. In reality, it doesn't really matter what happens. But with next week in mind, hopefully we can keep our habits."
Last season, the Caps had somewhere in the neighborhood of a dozen "meaningless" games at the end of their season. At least this time around, there are only two of them.
"They can be tough games, too," says Caps defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. "But I think we'll learn early on [Saturday] that Boston is still a hungry team. They still have something to play for here, and if we come out and we're unprepared, it's going to be an ugly game.
"We have to make sure that we're ready for everything that they're going to bring. It will be good for us to take some of that desperation for ourselves and to keep it in our game. We have something that we're getting ready for as well, so we don't want to lose this momentum that we have. I think we're playing very well as a team, and we want to make sure that we carry that and keep it going into next week."
Video: Caps players talk before heading to Boston
Washington won't be bringing defenseman John Carlson or forward Brett Connolly along with it on its quick journey north to Boston. A lower body injury has kept Carlson out of the team's last two games, and he won't play on Saturday against the Bruins, either. Caps coach Barry Trotz wouldn't say definitively yet whether Carlson might miss Sunday's game or not, and Trotz seemed to believe that Connolly would be good to go by the time Sunday's 7 p.m. start time rolls around.
Nate Schmidt has filled in admirably and capably in Carlson's absence. Trotz did note after Friday's practice that he'd like to get defenseman Taylor Chorney into one of Washington's two remaining games if possible. Serving as Washington's seventh defenseman for most of the regular season, Chorney has appeared in 17 games this season. But he has been idle since the Caps faced the Predators in Nashville on Feb. 25, sitting out 19 straight games. That's easily the longest gap between Chorney's on-ice appearances this season.
Forward Paul Carey will draw into the lineup in Connolly's absence, playing in his hometown against the team he grew up watching. Carey, a native of Boston, is expected to have a host of family and friends on hand for Saturday's game at TD Garden. Carey has skated in four games with the Capitals this season, the last of which was a March 2 game against New Jersey at Verizon Center.
Video: Coach Trotz talks after Friday's practice
Boston is coming off a 2-1 shootout loss to the Senators on Thursday night. That victory clinched a playoff berth for Ottawa, and also moved the Sens into second place in the NHL's Atlantic Division. The loss was Boston's fourth to the Senators in as many games this season, but the more significant loss might be that of top four defenseman Torey Krug.
Krug left Thursday's game in the first period because of a lower body injury, and he did not return. He will not play in Saturday's season finale, and he is day-to-day beyond that.
Boston relies on Krug on its power play, and he is probably their best puck-moving blueliner. With 51 points (eight goals, 43 assists) on the season, Krug is tied for fifth among all NHL defensemen in scoring.
The Bruins will also be playing without forwards Brad Marchand and Noel Acciari on Saturday. Marchand will be serving the second game of a two-game NHL suspension for a spearing incident in a game against Tampa Bay and Acciari suffered an upper body injury in the Bruins' shootout loss to the Sens on Thursday.