Holtby blanks Bruins, Capitals grab East’s top wild card spot

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Goaltending was a big reason why the Boston Bruins came into Sunday on a hot streak, but Braden Holtby showed that the Washington Capitals boast an outstanding netminder, too.

Holtby stopped all 32 Bruins shots as Washington won 2-0 tonight, securing the top wild card spot for the Capitals. They now have a two-point lead over Boston for that position and enjoy a healthy margin against the East’s bubble teams.

Holtby is impressing if you look at things from a short-term perspective:

… Yet he’s had a great season overall, too, as he now has eight shutouts and 33 wins in 2014-15.

Now, let’s not forget that Tuukka Rask was strong in his own right, as you can see most obviously from this sprawling stop:

Holtby obviously stole the show, though, as Washington’s two goals were clearly enough for the win. (Nicklas Backstrom collected two assists, setting a new Capitals franchise record for that stat.)

It wasn’t a perfect game in every way for the Capitals, as Alex Ovechkin experienced this, um, uncomfortable moment:

Still, he seems OK, and winning a big game probably helps to soothe that pain a bit.

Video: Backstrom sets Capitals assists record (for now?)

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Nicklas Backstrom earned the 419th assist of his already-impressive career on Sunday, setting a new Washington Capitals record … for now.

The helper came on a John Carlson power-play goal:

The really interesting is that Alex Ovechkin could easily pass him in this game.

Ovechkin, Backstrom and Michal Pivonka came into Sunday tied for the franchise mark with 418 assists. Pivonka obviously will be passed soon enough, but the two faces of the Capitals franchise will duke it out for that mark going forward.

To Nicklas Backstrom’s credit, he’s played more than 200 fewer games than Ovechkin. Considering their relationship (Backstrom is the Montana to Ovechkin’s Rice, if you will), one would assume that the slick Swede will finish with the assists mark while Ovechkin should finish with the Caps’ goals and points records.

Regardless, it really is another reminder that Backstrom should probably have an All-Star Game on his resume, right?

Update: Backstrom added a second assist to give himself 420 and helped Washington win 2-0 (more on that here).

Video: Rangers take over Metropolitan Division lead after defeating Capitals

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The New York Rangers are surging, and serving notice to the rest of the Eastern Conference.

Playing for the second time in as many nights, and third time in four nights, the Rangers defeated the Washington Capitals by a final score of 3-1 on Wednesday’s Rivalry Night, with Martin St. Louis scoring the insurance goal on a pretty two-on-none passing play late in the third period.

After making it to last year’s Stanley Cup Final, the Rangers have now taken over top spot in the Metropolitan Division. They lead the New York Islanders by one point. As difficult as their schedule has been to start this month — games against Nashville, Detroit, Chicago, New York Islanders and Washington — the Rangers have won four of those five games.

Even with Henrik Lundqvist out since Feb. 2, and he still has yet to be medically cleared, the Rangers have succeeded, and the play of Cam Talbot has been a large reason as to why. With his team ahead of the Capitals by a goal early in the second period, and trying to kill off a five-on-three situation, Talbot made a spectacular glove save on Nicklas Backstrom.

Alex Ovechkin scored goal No. 45 on the season, getting the Capitals on the board during a first-period power play.

Rangers defenseman Kevin Klein headed down the tunnel at the Rangers bench with less than a minute remaining, and appeared to be favoring his shoulder.

Capitals winger Jay Beagle sustained upper-body injury, did not return and will be re-evaluated tomorrow, according to the Capitals’ public relations department.

Updated: The Rangers stated that Klein is having x-rays taken after blocking a shot late in the game, however there is no further update.

Video: Talbot denies Backstrom with spectacular glove save

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The Washington Capitals appeared to have a sure goal, which would’ve tied Wednesday’s rivalry night game against the New York Rangers just 55 seconds into the second period.

The Capitals were on a five-on-three power play. Nicklas Backstrom, who is approaching 20 goals this season and tied for second in the league in points coming into the game, had the puck on his stick. And he had plenty of net to shoot for. Only problem was Rangers goalie Cam Talbot was able to get across the crease just enough to throw out the glove and absolutely rob Backstrom.

The play was briefly reviewed, but there was no goal on the play.

Get your game notes: Rangers at Caps

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Tonight on NBCSN, it’s the Washington Capitals hosting the New York Rangers on Rivalry Night at 8 p.m. ET. Following are some game notes, as compiled by the NHL on NBC research team:

TOP STORYLINES

• At a glance in the Metro: No division has less separation between its top 4 teams than the Metropolitan. After the Rangers 2-1 win at NYI last night, NYR can take sole possession of the division – and Eastern Conference – lead tonight with a win. In addition, with a win AND an ANA regulation loss, the Rangers would become 1st in the NHL. WSH has a 4-point lead on #2WC BOS, but PIT is also within reach for 3rd in the division.

• In addition, WSH and NYR have 3 matchups remaining this season (including tonight).

• Winning with Cam: When Henrik Lundqvist began to miss time starting on Feb. 4 (though injured initially on Jan. 31), the Rangers’ 2 goalies had a combined 32 games of NHL experience– all from backup Cam Talbot. After last night’s win vs. NYI, the team is now 12-2-3 in King Henrik’s absence.

• Talbot has started 16 of those 17 total Ranger games, including his current run of 8 straight, putting up very impressive numbers in that stretch:

• Talbot stopped 29 of 30 shots last night. He has only started games on back-to-back days once in this stretch with Lundqvist out. He allowed 3 goals each against NSH and DAL last month, posting an 0-1-1 record in those games.

• There is still no concrete update on Lundqvist’s status other than him
continuing to skate and work out on his own.

• Caps coming off big win: This is the 3rd of a 5 game home stand for WSH (1-1-0 record), though the Caps enter tonight after a 3-day break between games. WSH is coming off its most lopsided victory of the season – a 6-1 defeat of BUF on Sat. They have now won 3 of their 4 gms in March after closing out Feb. with 3 straight losses.

• The Caps set season-bests for shots on goal (45), shots against (17), and margin of victory (5) while going 2-for-3 on the PP and a perfect 3-for-3 on the PK against the Sabres. Coach Barry Trotz gave the team two days off following the win. He also indicated that the break could help the Caps gear up for the stretch run and improve their position in the Metro: “There’s teams that are chasing us a little bit…so we’re not out of the woods there…But our focus has to be, when we come back, let’s look at the teams that we could catch now and see if we can jump over a couple of them. I think there’s enough time and I think we’re a good enough team to do that.” – Trotz, following the win vs. BUF

• Ovechkin and Nash: This game will feature the top 2 goal scorers in the NHL. Alex Ovechkin (44 goals) is the 2-time defending Rocket Richard Trophy winner (4-time winner overall), while Rick Nash (39 goals) took home his only goal-scoring title in 2003-04 (scored a career-high 41 goals, shared award w/ 2 others).

• In the only prior meeting this season between WSH and NYR (at MSG), Nash had a hat trick and Ovechkin scored a PPG in NYR’s 4-2 win.

RANGERS TEAM/PLAYER NOTES

• Rick Nash scored the game-winning goal vs. NYI last night (also assisted on NYR’s first goal). He leads the NHL in even-strength goals (30), is t-1st in short-handed goals (4), and is t-2nd in game-winning goals (8).

• Nash is 1 goal away from his 3rd career 40-goal season. His previous 2 were both w/ CBJ: 40 in 2008-09 and a career-high 41 in 2003-04 when he won the Rocket Richard Trophy (shared w/ Ilya Kovalchuk and Jarome Iginla).

• Derick Brassard (also a CBJ 1st-round pick – 6th overall in 2006) centers Rick Nash on the top line. Since the beginning of February, Brassard has made in impact with 17 points (2G-15A) in 18 games.

• Trade deadline acquisition Keith Yandle was Arizona’s leading scorer (41 pts) before the trade. In four games for the Rangers, Yandle has 0 points in 19:03 TOI.

• Yandle has not yet sparked the Rangers 14th-ranked power play (18.3%) as hoped. Since the trade, the team is 1-for-10 on the PP.

• Mats Zuccarello has responded well since agreeing to a 4-yr/18M extension last week. He has assists in all 4 games since (5 total), including the primary helper on Kevin Hayes’ game-tying goal last night.

• On Sunday, Hayes played at United Center for the first time. The 22-year-old was a 1st-round pick (24th overall) by Chicago in 2010, but he did not sign with the Hawks and instead played 4 years at Boston College. Hayes signed with the Rangers over the summer. Then, yesterday, Hayes continued his strong rookie season with an impressive individual effort to tie the game at 1 – his 13th goal of the season.

CAPITALS TEAM/PLAYER NOTES

• The Caps have at least 1 power play goal in all 4 March games so far (5-for-8 overall). The team ranks 2nd in the NHL overall with a 24.9% success rate. Alex Ovechkin leads the league with 20 power play goals.

• The Capitals acquired Curtis Glencross from Calgary for a 2015 2nd and 3rd-round pick at the trade deadline. Glencross has been an immediate fit on a line with Jay Beagle and Troy Brouwer, in addition to getting time on the PP.

• Glencross had 3 points (1G-2A) vs. BUF, his first 3-point game since March 22 of last season.

• He now has 4 points (2G-2A) in the 3 games since being traded.

• “I was excited for the new challenge.” – Glencross, on coming to WSH

• Alex Ovechkin (44 goals) & Nicklas Backstrom (51 assists) lead the league in those respective categories. They are also t-2nd in the league with 69 points (John Tavares leads w/ 72).

• With 2 assists vs. BUF, Backstrom tied Michal Pivonka on the franchise’s all-time assists list with 418. Ovi is 3rd (417).

• No two teammates have more points this season than Ovechkin & Backstrom (138).

• The last time two teammates finished 1-2 in the scoring race in a full season was in 1995-96, when Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr (PIT), accomplished the feat (Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis were 1-2 in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season for TB).

• Ovi is the frontrunner for a 5th Rocket Richard Trophy – and 3rd straight. 6 players have won the NHL’s goal-scoring title 5+ times. 6 players have also won 3+ consecutive titles (most recent: Brett Hull 1990-92).

• Caps injuries: D Mike Green (upper-body) was held out of practice Tuesday. He is day-to-day and will be evaluated after the morning skate. WSH recalled D Nate Schmidt from Hershey (AHL) on an emergency basis.

• D Brooks Orpik (lower-body) left practice early yesterday and will also be a game-time decision.

• Braden Holtby made 16 saves on 17 shots against Buffalo. Overall, he is ranked near the top of 5 major goaltending categories:

• He has started the Caps’ last 10 games.

• vs. NYR: Holtby allowed 4 goals in the December meeting vs. the Rangers (4-2 loss).