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Raffl's late goal gives Caps win in season finale, Ovechkin returns, Vanecek notches 21st victory, more

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps /

Finishing Touches - Tuesday's regular season finale between the Caps and the Bruins was more a matter of bookkeeping than anything else. Both teams had played 55 games of a 56-game schedule, and this contest - originally slated to be played in mid-April - was tacked on after the season's original end date of May 8 because of a midseason, COVID-related postponement.

By the time the Caps and Bruins finally played the game on Tuesday, it held no real meaning in the standings for either side. For Washington, it was a chance to get stars Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom back into the lineup for a playoff dress rehearsal ahead of Saturday's opening of the Stanley Cup playoffs. For Boston, it was an opportunity to rest most of its regulars from the net on out, including all six of its likely defensemen for Saturday's playoff opener against Washington.

For both sides, it was merely a prelude to the postseason, a tune-up tilt ahead of the games that really matter.

In the end, Michael Raffl spared us all the pain of overtime and a possible shootout when he snapped a 1-1 tie with 1.8 seconds left, authoring the game-winning goal with an improbable shot from a seemingly impossible angle; he released the puck with his stick blade just below the goal line, sneaking it high to the far corner, over the back of Bruins netminder Jeremy Swayman.

Raffl's goal gave the Caps a 2-1 win, enabling Washington to finish the truncated campaign with 77 points, a total that translates to 113 points over a full 82-game season. From a points pct. standpoint (.688), it's the fourth-best regular season performance in the franchise's 46-season NHL history.

"I actually didn't mind the way we played in the first 40 minutes," says Caps coach Peter Laviolette. "I thought we were pretty good. And then the last 20 kind of snuck away from us a little bit. But I think everybody is excited that the season is over and we're putting this off to the side and we're getting ready for the playoffs. That's what we'll build on."

Driver 8 - After missing seven of Washington's previous eight games and skating just 39 seconds in the one game he did play during that span, Caps captain Alex Ovechkin returned to the lineup on Tuesday and played a full game for the first time since April 22. A lower body injury kept him on the sidelines for most of the last two and a half weeks.

"I feel great," says Ovechkin. "The trainers and all the staff did a great job. It was a battle through it; I tried to play in New York [on May 3] but didn't feel comfortable. And obviously we don't want to make a risk, and that was a smart move. We were talking with Lavi and [head athletic trainer Jason Serbus] and they wanted me to be 100 percent. Right now, I'm 100 percent. I don't feel any soreness. I feel comfortable out there, and that's the most important thing. This time of year you have to be smart and you have to think about the future, not only the regular season."

Ovechkin finished the night with 19 minutes on the dot, and he was credited with four shots on net, nine shot attempts and four hits.

"I thought he was good," says Laviolette of Ovechkin. "I think it was really good for him to get out and play a game. He hasn't played in a bit here, so when he was cleared and deemed healthy, the conversation switched to which was more important, getting the feel of the game and touching the puck and making plays, or waiting [for the playoffs]. And I think the consensus was from everybody - especially Alex - that he wanted to get out there and play and get a feel for it. I thought it was good he got some work."

Victory Road - Caps goaltender Vitek Vanecek made 24 saves on Tuesday to finish his rookie season with a 21-10-4 mark in a team-high 37 appearances. The win total is the second highest by a rookie goaltender in franchise history, trailing only Michal Neuvirth's 27 victories in 2010-11.

Iron Quartet - The Caps finished the regular season with four players who played in all 56 games: defenseman Brenden Dillon and the team's entire fourth line of Carl Hagelin, Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway.

Writing The Book Of Last Pages - Because several NHL teams are still playing out the remainder of the postponements and have regular season games remaining, Washington's end-of-season placement within League statistical categories can't be determined with finality as of yet. But the Caps finished the season with 3.38 goals per game, currently tied for third in the NHL. They yielded an average of 2.88 goals per game, 17th in the League.

Washington's power play finished at 24.8% efficiency on the season; that's third in the circuit right now. The Caps' penalty-killing outfit was successful on 84% of its missions this season, ranking fifth at the moment.

By The Numbers - Nick Jensen led the Caps with 20:40 in ice time … Ovechkin, Raffl and Anthony Mantha led the Caps with four shots on net each … Hathaway's five hits paced Washington … Hagelin led the Caps with two blocked shots … Dowd won nine of a dozen draws (75%) and Lars Eller won seven of 11 (64%).

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