BALTIMORE (AP) -- I'll Have Another waited a little longer to catch Bodemeister in the stretch this time, and now that he's done it twice in a row it's time for a Triple Crown try in the Belmont Stakes in three weeks. With a breathtaking closing rush, the smooth-striding colt won the Preakness Stakes by a neck at Pimlico Race Course on a sunny Saturday, a dramatic finish that topped his win two weeks ago in the Kentucky Derby. The race unfolded the same way as the Derby, with the speedy Bodemeister moving to the lead under Mike Smith, with I'll Have Another hanging back in fourth in the 11-horse field. The early fractions were slower than the Derby, but when it came time for Bodemeister to hang on, I'll Have Another found another gear under young jockey Mario Gutierrez and ran down trainer Bob Baffert's horse in the shadow of the wire. "We're thinking Triple Crown, baby," an elated trainer Doug O'Neill said. "He's a special horse. We'll see how he comes out of it, and if he comes out of it in good shape, we're heading to New York, baby." It's been 34 years since Affirmed swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont and became the 11th and most recent Triple Crown champion. Since then, 11 horses have won the first two legs only to come up short in the Belmont. The most recent try came in 2008, when Big Brown was pulled up around the turn for home and did not finish. Before that, Smarty Jones was run down in the final 70 yards by Birdstone in the 2005 Belmont. If margins are an indication, perhaps I'll Have Another has a Triple Crown in his future. Affirmed won the Derby by the identical 1 lengths over Alydar, and then beat his rival by the same neck margin in the Preakness. "I didn't feel confident we were going to get there until 10 yards from the wire," owner J. Paul Reddam said. I'll Have Another, sent off as the second choice at 3-1 over 8-5 favorite Bodemeister, covered the 1 316 miles in 1:55.94. The winner returned 8.40, 3.80 and 2.80. Bodemeister returned 3.20 and 2.80, and Creative Cause paid 3.60 to show.
On Monday, Capitals Coach Barry Trotz dedicated a portion of practice to working on the shootout.
A couple of reasons: The Caps haven’t been good at them this season and that extra point might just come in handy given how tight the standings have become.
On Thursday night, that extra work paid off in a pivotal 2-1 shootout win over the visiting Blue Jackets.
With the win, the Caps improved to 2-5 in games decided by the skills competition. More important, though, it helped Washington grow its lead over Pittsburgh and Columbus to two and three standings points, respectively, with nine games left to play.
“Winning in a shootout, which we have not been good at all year, Holts was the guy,” Trotz said, referring to Braden Holtby, who had not won a shootout in five tries. “That was great. That extra point might be huuuge. It might be absolutely huge.”
Of the practice, Trotz said: “It’s paying dividends. We’re working on parts of our game that we need to make sure that we are good at.”
The Caps’ leading scorer and penalty shot specialist, T.J. Oshie, scored the only goal in the shootout. In the 2014 Sochi Games, Oshie beat Bobrovsky four times in penalty shots to lift the United States over Russia. Three times he went 5-hole.
“I thought about it for five seconds, maybe,” Oshie said Thursday night. “I was going to come in and do something different from what I remembered. I saw something different and decided to go 5-hole.”
Oshie added: “I felt pretty fortunate, and luckily that’s the only one we needed because Holts shut the door on the other end.”
Holtby, meantime, made saves on both of the Columbus attempts that were on goal. Another missed the net.
Afterward, the veteran goalie credited the extra work on Monday. In that practice session, Trotz asked Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom, Kevin Shattenkirk, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin and Justin Williams to take two shots each on Holtby, who was watched closely by the coaching staff.
“We worked on it a little bit,” Holtby said. “It’s something that I try not to fiddle around with too much because I don’t want it creeping into my regular game because a breakaway is totally different than a shootout. But with the race getting pretty close, [in case we had] another one, we worked on it a couple of days ago in practice to try and get a little better at that for the stretch run.”
And they did get a little better at it. And just at the right time.
While the Caps established themselves as the top team in the NHL, the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins have managed to keep pace with them leading to a three-team race for supremacy of the division. On Thursday, the Caps managed to give themselves a little breathing room.
Washington defeated Columbus 2-1 in a shootout. While it was not the "four-point" game the Caps perhaps had hoped, it still extended their lead over the Blue Jackets by a point.
The Ottawa Senators also did Washington a favor on Thursday by downing the Pittsburgh Penguins. Ironically enough, the score of that game was also 2-1 in a shootout.
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While all three Metropolitan leaders did manage to get points on the night, Washingotn was the only one to get two, meaning they extended their lead over both teams by one. It also means neither Columbus or Pittsburgh registered a regulation or overtime win (ROW). ROW is the first tiebreaker in the standings which could prove critical in such a tight race.
After Thursday's games, here is what the top three of the Metropolitan looks like:
1. Washington: 48-17-8, 104 points, 46 ROW
2. Pittsburgh: 46-17-10, 102 points, 43 ROW
3. Columbus: 47-19-7, 101 points, 45 ROW
With eight games remaining, that's not much breathing room for the Caps. Considering, however, that Washington could have left Thursday tied for second in the division, they certainly will take Thursday's result.
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