shavings bruins

Play To Win – For the first time in 16 years, Washington’s playoff fate will be decided in – or potentially, even after – its final game of the season. Tonight in the District, the Caps host the Boston Bruins in their final home game of the 2023-24 season. Immediately after the game, the Caps head to Philadelphia for game 82 of their 82-game regular season slate. If Washington wins both games, it can punch its ticket to the postseason, no questions asked.

If they fall short of attaining all of those four points still available to them, the picture can become murky and complicated, and the Caps would require help from outside sources to get in. Additionally, their fate may not even be determined after Tuesday’s game against the Flyers. The outcome of Wednesday’s game between the Pens and the Islanders in New York could become a factor in Washington’s fate if they stumble between now and then.

The Caps have two games remaining, but they can only play one of them tonight, and that’s where their entire collective focus is right now.

“One game – Boston,” says Caps’ coach Spencer Carbery. “We know we have two games left – back-to-back – we know all that stuff. We’re obviously preparing for the travel tonight. But we’ve got to look after our business, and we’ve got to look after the Boston Bruins. We know they’re in a fight to win their division, and we’re trying to fight to keep our season going.

“It’s as simple as that, and the preparation has been according to that right there. We’re going to continue to fight tonight, put our best foot forward and play at the level that we are going to need to play at, to get two points against a really good hockey team.”

When Washington dropped six straight games (0-5-1) from Jan. 20-Feb. 8, they looked to be headed for another season outside the playoff picture; the Feb. 8 loss to the Panthers left them in 12th place in the Eastern Conference standings, seven points south of the second wild card berth with 33 games remaining.

Beginning with a 3-0 win over the Bruins in Boston on Feb. 10, the Caps slowly climbed the Eastern Conference standings ladder, and their 16-11-4 record from that point forward has put them in a position to return to the postseason.

“This year – even throughout the year – there’s been a lot of peaks and valleys, a lot of stuff happening and a lot of moving parts,” reflects Caps’ defenseman John Carlson. “I’m proud to get us into this position, but for all of us in here, it doesn’t mean anything if we don’t follow through. We’ve had some gutsy wins down the stretch to even have this conversation, so we’re not taking anything for granted. We want to finish this year strong.”

Washington overcame a tough start, the loss of Nicklas Backstrom on Nov. 1, and it traded away three regular players ahead of the March 8 trade deadline without adding anything but draft choices in return. Yet here they are, with two games remaining, and a chance to play for the Stanley Cup if they can win both games.

“It’s been a pretty crazy year in terms of ups and downs and momentum in this room,” says Caps’ right wing Tom Wilson. “There’s been a lot of different swings, and right now we’ve put ourselves in a position to be playing meaningful games. I think if you told us at the beginning of the year that we’d have this opportunity, to come down to the last two games to get ourselves into the playoffs, I think we’d be pretty excited about that.

“It’s exciting to be in this position,” echoes Caps right wing T.J. Oshie. “There’s obviously been points in the season where it looked like it was going to be a very uphill climb to get to this spot. It’s in our own hands. It’s a playoff, Game 7 type – lose, go home; win, continue – so it’s a big challenge, but one that you definitely want to be a part of.

“We’re excited to get going tonight. We’re obviously playing two good teams here in two nights, so the worst thing we could do is to get ahead of ourselves and think about anything more than our first shift, and then go from there.”

Blue Line Blues – Saturday’s 4-2 win over Tampa Bay was a costly one for the Caps, who lost defenseman Nick Jensen to an upper body injury late in the first period of that game. Already playing without Rasmus Sandin (lower body) and Ethan Bear (NHL/NHLPA Player Assistance Program), the loss of Jensen leaves them without two of their top three minute munchers – Jensen and Sandin – on the blueline, and they’re missing one of the NHL’s top 30 blueliners in average nightly shorthanded ice time in Jensen (2:46) as well.

It won’t be easy to navigate their way through two critical contests in about 27 hours without those key players, but that’s what the Caps are up against. Rookie Vincent Iorio has been filling in during Sandin’s absence, and newly recalled veteran blueliner Dylan McIlrath will step into the lineup tonight in place of Jensen.

“Things will shuffle around, without a doubt,” says Carbery of the roles of his blueline brigade. “Minutewise, it will increase like you saw last game. Marty [Fehervary] is going to play a little bit more, Al [Alexeyev] will play a little bit more, [Trevor van Riemsdyk] will play a little bit more. John [Carlson] will probably hold firm, and play what he has been playing, minute allocation wise, all season long. But those guys are going to have to share a little bit of the load. Vinny Iorio will probably play a little bit more than he has over the last half dozen games or so.

“It will be a shared responsibility; it won’t be shouldered on one guy. Probably if you look at the stat sheet at the end of the night, the average for Marty and those guys I just mentioned will probably be up a few minutes each.”

While McIlrath, Alexeyev and Iorio all have less than 75 games worth of NHL experience, McIlrath is almost 32 and has played professionally for a decade. He is the captain of the AHL Hershey Bears, and he has played on two Calder Cup championship squads, including the 2023 Hershey team that won the franchise’s record 12th Calder crown last June. McIlrath will be tasked with taking some of Jensen’s penalty killing workload.

“It’s been a long journey,” says McIlrath. “I definitely have some experience, playing some games down the stretch with New York, and then I have a playoff game under my belt. But obviously a lot of hard miles in the AHL playing, especially last year going deep. So I have a lot of experience.”

McIlrath played one game earlier this season with the Caps, a 3-0 win over Vegas here in the District on Nov. 14. McIlrath wore sweater No. 25 that night, a number that has since been given to Bear. McIlrath will wear his previous digits reversed tonight, joining a list of players who’ve sported multiple numbers over the course of their careers in D.C.

“It’s exciting,” says McIlrath. “It’s kind of what you dream of as a kid, playing in these big, important games. Whatever my role is – whether I’m in the stands or on the ice – I’m going to enjoy it all.

In The Nets – Charlie Lindgren gets the net again for Washington tonight against the Bruins. Lindgren has appeared in 24 of the Caps’ last 27 games, and since Feb. 10, only Buffalo’s Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (27) has appeared in more games than Lindgren (26) among all NHL netminders. In his last four starts, Lindgren is 2-1-1 with a 2.26 GAA and a .921 save pct.

Lifetime against the Bruins, Lindgren is 1-1-1 with a shutout, a 1.76 GAA and a .940 save pct. in three appearances, all starts.

For the Bruins, Jeremy Swayman will be in net tonight. Boston’s tandem of Swayman and Linus Ullmark is one of the best in the business, and the two goaltenders have had a fairly even split of the workload, the wins and the minutes in the crease this season. They’re the only two goaltenders Boston has used this season, and the B’s have needed to use both goalies only twice in 80 games thus far.

Lifetime against the Capitals, Swayman is 2-3-0 with a 1.93 GAA and a .930 save pct. in six appearances (five starts).

All Lined Up – Here’s how the Caps and Bruins might look when they take the ice on Monday night in the District for Washington’s regular season home finale:



8-Ovechkin, 17-Strome, 43-Wilson

21-Protas, 24-McMichael, 77-Oshie

67-Pacioretty, 29-Lapierre, 15-Milano

47-Malenstyn, 26-Dowd, 96-Aubé-Kubel


42-Fehervary, 74-Carlson

57-van Riemsdyk, 2-Iorio

27-Alexeyev, 52-McIlrath





3-Jensen (upper body)

19-Backstrom (lower body)

25-Bear (NHL/NHLPA Player Assistance Program)

38-Sandin (upper body)







63-Marchand, 13-Coyle, 74-DeBrusk

43-Heinen, 18-Zacha, 88-Pastrnak

19-Beecher, 39-Geekie, 11-Frederic

61-Maroon, 70-Boqvist, 94-Lauko


27-Lindholm, 73-McAvoy

48-Grzelcyk, 25-Carlo

12-Shattenkirk, 52-Peeke





17-Lucic (ankle)

28-Forbort (undisclosed)

51-Poitras (shoulder)

55-Brazeau (upper body)


21-J. van Riemsdyk