Now might be a good time for Capitals fans to root for the Ottawa Senators to finish anywhere but sixth in the Eastern Conference standings.
The Senators clinched a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs when former Caps defenseman Sergei Gonchar blasted a power-play slapshot past Michal Neuvirth 47 seconds into overtime Thursday night.
The win not only clinched a second straight playoff berth for the Senators, it vaulted them into a virtual tie with the New York Islanders and New York Rangers with 54 points in the Eastern Conference standings.
But because the Senators have two more games and the New York teams each have one, the Senators find themselves in sixth place in the East.
And you know what that means.
“See you guys next week,” Senators defenseman Eric Gryba told a Washington reporter as he left a visiting locker room filled with celebratory hoots and hollers.
In three games against the Senators this season the Capitals are 0-2-1 and have scored four goals.
On Thursday night they were frustrated into taking 18 minutes of penalties in the third period, including a Mike Ribeiro roughing penalty on Kyle Turris with 58 seconds remaining that led to Gonchar’s 4-on-3 goal.
“Probably a little more than we liked,” Capitals coach Adam Oates said of the late parade to he penalty box. “Guys were a little frustrated toward the second half of the game.”
The Capitals were mostly upset with Chris Neil wreaking havoc in the crease of Michal Neuvirth.
“We protect our goalie passionately and everybody got involved,” Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said. “What do they want us to do? Just let it go? The referee doesn’t like Ribs.”
Ribeiro took a pair of penalties in the final 5 minutes of regulation, going to the box for hooking and roughing.
Much of that frustration came at the delight of Ottawa agitator Chris Neil.
“We did a good job shutting down their top guys,” Neil said. “They have one of the best players in the world in [Alex] Ovechkin and if you do a good job on him everything else falls into place.
“They play hard and you’ve got to be able to weather the storm and dictate some of it yourself. When we did that tonight we were successful.”
Ovechkin provided the Capitals with their only goal of the night, tying the score 8:31 into the third period when he blew past defenseman Chris Phillips, cut inside and tucked a backhander under Craig Anderson.
It was Ovechkin’s first goal against the Senators this season.
In his three games against the Sens, Ovechkin recorded just one goal on five total shots.
“They play more defensive style,” Ovechkin said. “I’m sure in playoffs there’s going to be more hitting, more speed. Right now everybody try to play safe. At the same time we have to play better.”
Oates agreed, saying better patience will be needed if the Caps face the Senators next week in the playoffs.
“They don’t give you much,” Oates said. “They’re willing to wait and wait and wait. It makes it very frustrating. They have a very good goalie and they protect him. They don’t give you much. You have to kind of match that with them.”
Caps defenseman Karl Alzner said lessons need to be learned from Thursday night’s loss. And it starts with keeping their composure.
“I think we were just getting frustrated by the way things were going for us,” he said. “That’s what you saw. They’re stingy. It is frustrating when you’re not getting many chances. They have a good D and a good goalie.
“It’s not the most fun game to play in and probably not the most fun to watch. That’s the way that team is.”