Calling the New Jersey Devils “red hot” is fitting (for obvious reasons). A scorching 23-4-2 record entering Friday’s game with the Washington Capitals had the Devils reaching for a playoff spot when it seemed that all hope was lost just a few months ago. Yet, the Caps were the only team in the NHL that could say that they were just as hot, having won 12 of 15, and when these two fiery, red-clad teams met, Washington’s cooler heads prevailed in a 3-0 shutout victory. Thirty-three saves from Michal Neuvirth, two goals from Mike Knuble and one from Jeff Schultz (his first goal in 82 games/February 11, 2010; it must be Remy) on just 12 shots were enough to chase Martin Brodeur and the Devils. It’s also fitting that the Caps shut down the Devils Friday, because the latter’s playoff chances just went to hell.
- In front of his hometown crowd, John Carlson played arguably his best game as a Cap. Carlson finished with two assists and a plus-2 in 22:54 of ice time, just six seconds behind defensive partner Karl Alzner for the team high. His backdoor cut/slap pass to Knuble to set up his first goal was a thing of beauty and he had the wherewithal to put the puck exactly where it needed to be all night. Carlson was literally all over the ice and he finished the season series with New Jersey with seven points. Not only that, but he is now only eight points from passing Robert Picard for the most points in a season by a Caps rookie defenseman. Carlson is a front-runner for the Calder Trophy this season and will be for the Norris Trophy for years to come.
- Last week, head coach Bruce Boudreau said that the goaltending situation would play itself out within the next six/seven games. Neuvirth solidified his claim on the No. 1 spot Friday when he stopped all 33 shots that came his way. He made some magnificent saves and had his glove hand working all night (ask Ilya Kovalchuk). Friday’s shutout was Neuvirth’s fourth of the season, which leads all rookie goalies. After giving New Jersey a Deviled goose egg, it’s his job to lose.
- In his first game since March 7, Nicklas Backstrom was quiet, but won 13 of 17 faceoffs. The thumb looks to be fine.
- The 12 shots on goal were a season low by 10 shots, but that shouldn’t be a concern. The Caps played their new brand of Devils-esque hockey Friday by keeping New Jersey clogged in the neutral zone. Most of the Devils’ 33 shots came from long range, which are low-percentage shots. Once Schultz gave Washington the lead, the Caps put on the defensive clamps and played smart, conservative hockey. Instead of trying to blow the Devils out like they had in two games at Verizon Center (a combined 12-3 score), the Caps let the opportunities come to them and capitalized on their chances when they did. It was an extremely well-executed plan that came together.
While the playoffs are a formality now, the Capitals did not officially clinch a spot after the Carolina Hurricanes defeated the New York Islanders. Washington, however, moved into a first-place tie with the idle Philadelphia Flyers, setting up an incredibly important game Tuesday at Wachovia Center. No one wants to be in second place. It’s a lot like being the tracer.