WASHINGTON -- The Washington Capitals had not defeated a Metropolitan Division rival in more than six weeks, a stretch of seven games, heading into their game against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday.
The Capitals avoided their longest intradivisional losing streak in more than 25 years by beating the Devils 3-0 on Saturday. In doing so, Washington enters the NHL's break for the 2014 Sochi Olympics with positive momentum to build off upon its return.
"It's huge," captain Alex Ovechkin said. "After we come back from the Olympics, we're going to be on a good note, in a good mood. The team will have left with a smile on our face. We did a great job [Saturday]. We knew it was going to be hard."
Battling for position in the Metropolitan Division, the Capitals took a two-point lead over the Devils with the victory.
Each team is trying to get into a position for an Eastern Conference playoff berth; the Capitals are one point behind the Detroit Red Wings, who hold the second wild-card spot, and the Devils are three points back.
"Teams have done it before. Teams have made late charges and gotten in the playoffs and done some damage in the playoffs," said Devils goaltender Cory Schneider, who made 23 saves. "Of course we think there is still time. It's not a lot of time, but we've got to put words into action here and make it happen."
With 9:10 remaining in regulation, Capitals defenseman Julien Brouillette, who made his NHL debut on Thursday in a 4-2 victory against the Winnipeg Jets, scored his first career goal. Nicklas Backstrom won an offensive-zone faceoff back to Patrick Wey, who sent a cross-ice pass to his defense partner at the left point.
Brouillette settled the puck, skated to the top of the circle and snapped a shot past Schneider, who until that point had frustrated the Capitals all evening.
"I couldn't think of anything," Brouillette said of his initial reaction to the goal. "It was so confusing, but great at the same time. I knew it right away. It's going to be hard to sleep [Saturday]."
That was all the Capitals needed against a Devils team that scores 2.29 goals per game, fourth-fewest in the League. Braden Holtby made 25 saves to earn his third shutout of the season and 10th of his career.
"It's not like we need a couple, two or three a game," Devils forward Ryane Clowe said. "Some games we just need one. We just need that one extra goal. There is [a lot] of ability in here to do that. It comes to a stage where you kind of scratch your head and wonder what you need to do."
The final score, padded by empty-net goals from Martin Erat and Troy Brouwer, was not indicative of the stingy game. Until Brouillette's goal, neither team afforded the other many opportunities to score.
The scoreless first period featured plenty of special-teams play, with each team receiving two power plays.
Each team's best chance came during its first opportunity with the man advantage. About four minutes into the period, Holtby slid across the crease to make a leg save on Damien Brunner after a Washington defensive-zone breakdown. Schneider then thwarted a point-blank shot from Brouwer, who was called for two offensive-zone penalties in the opening period, in the slot less than two minutes later.
The Devils controlled the play through the early portion of the second period, hemming the Capitals in their own zone with lengthy shifts. Washington dodged a bullet 3:16 into the period when Michael Ryder set up Adam Henrique in the slot with a pass from behind the net, but Henrique's shot struck the left post and bounced away.
On the other end, Schneider continued to stymie the Capitals, particularly when he stopped three shots in rapid succession from in tight, sprawling out in the crease to keep Jay Beagle's stuff attempts out of the net.
When the Capitals were not turning the puck over, they actually put some pressure on Schneider to start the third period, but the Devils goaltender stopped them at every turn. With Washington on the power play, Ovechkin wound up and fired a shot from his customary position in the left circle, but the shot just glanced off the crossbar and deflected out of play.
"Obviously, the Devils play that kind of game," Capitals coach Adam Oates said. "They are willing to play it every night, and it's a frustrating team to play. They don't give you much. I looked up with nine minutes left in the third period and I think it was 20 each in shots. Both teams played stingy. It was good."
Brouillette eventually broke through with the game-winning goal, and Erat finally scored his first goal of the season on Washington's first empty-netter at 18:13, snapping the longest goalless drought of his 12-year career. Brouwer's goal 36 seconds later was the 100th of his career.
"Crucial," Capitals defenseman John Carlson said of the team's past two victories. "This one a little more than the last one [against Winnipeg], but obviously for our team, everything's crucial right now. Carry a little bit of momentum into the break. We know we have our work cut out for us still when we get back."