Washington looks to head into the postseason on a high note Saturday night when they host a Boston team seeking consistency down the stretch.
The Capitals (26-18-3) wrapped up their fifth Southeast Division championship in six years with Tuesday’s 5-3 win over Winnipeg and will be the No. 3 seed when the Eastern Conference playoffs begin next week.
Coach Adam Oates didn’t discount the fact his team may have played more relaxed in a 2-1 overtime loss to Ottawa on Thursday, though he’s confident the players will be ready for the regular-season finale.
“You want to bring your ‘A’ game because the game is still very fast,” Oates said. “You don’t want anyone to get hurt because you’re not checked into the game as much as you should be. You don’t want to let your game slide.”
Alex Ovechkin scored his NHL-leading 32nd goal and is in position to win his third Maurice Richard Trophy as the league’s leading goal scorer. He won his previous two in 2007-08 and 2008-09, the same seasons he was awarded the Hart Trophy as the NHL MVP.
Though all that’s left for the Capitals is who they will play in the postseason, Ovechkin is hoping for a strong finish.
“Right now I think everyone is trying to play safe to not get hurt,” Ovechkin said. “But at the same time we have to play better.”
Ovechkin had two goals and three assists in Washington’s seven-game playoff victory over the Bruins in last year’s playoffs, and a victory Saturday could hurt Boston’s chances for its third straight Northeast title.
The Bruins (28-13-5) are tied with Montreal atop the division, though they have one game in hand and will finish their season Sunday at home against Ottawa in a game rescheduled from April 15 due to the Boston Marathon bombings.
They haven’t played extremely well of late, having lost five of six prior to Thursday’s 2-0 victory over Tampa Bay. Coach Claude Julien was pleased with the way his team responded following a 5-2 loss at Philadelphia on Tuesday.
“I’m not looking for perfection,” Julien said. “I’m looking for reaction.”
Tuukka Rask made 30 saves for his fifth shutout of the season and second in as many starts.
“At the end of the day, a goaltender plays a big role in your success,” Julien said. “You need a guy to stand tall and be good, and you need a guy that goes into the playoffs with confidence and hopefully that’s what Tuukka’s creating here.”
Division title or not, Boston still is in good position to have home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
“We have a game Saturday and Sunday, and we can’t take a step back right now,” Rask said. “We have to move forward and keep going.”
Boston led 3-0 after the first period, but Washington scored four unanswered goals - including Eric Fehr’s tally in overtime - as the Capitals picked up the win March 5. Braden Holtby made 30 saves in his only regular-season career start versus the Bruins after ousting them in the first round last spring.
Milan Lucic had three assists in Boston’s 4-1 win over Washington on March 16, ending the Capitals’ three-game regular-season winning streak in the series.