Saturday, April 9, 2016

Capitals blitz Blues 5-1 in season finale

Ovechkin's hat trick, Holtby ties Brodeur record for wins in 
season; St. Louis will face Blackhawks in first round of playoffs

ST. LOUIS -- In the end, it really didn't matter what the Blues did.

But to end the regular season with a 5-1 thud at the hands of the Washington Capitals in the regular season finale at Scottrade Center will leave Blues fans wavering in confidence as the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin against the Chicago Blackhawks, likely with Game 1 of the Western Conference first round series slated for Wednesday at Scottrade Center.

The Blues, who ended the regular season 49-24-9, were chasing the Dallas Stars for first place in the Central Division and top seed in the Western Conference. And for a moment, when Vladmir Tarasenko gave the Blues a quick 1-0 lead, and the Nashville Predators led the Stars 1-0 (and 2-0 at one point), it looked surprisingly good for the Blues to overtake the Stars, who held the tiebreaker of more regulation or overtime wins in case the teams finished with the same amount of points.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Paul Stastny (middle) watches as Capitals goalie Braden
Holtby makes a save in Washington's 5-1 victory.

But when the Stars rallied to defeat the Predators 3-2, the Blues' result became a moot point.

It was quite evident the Blues are ready to get the second season started.

"We're dying to get this going," said left wing Alexander Steen. "They came at us and we didn't have an answer. A few goals and they were able to sit on a lead towards the end, but it was one of those games where it just wasn't working for us for whatever reason. It's the last game of the season. It was an odd game for us, but before that, we'd been playing well."

Goalie Braden Holtby tied the NHL record for wins in a season, Alex Ovechkin scored a hat trick to reach 50 goals for the third straight season in the Capitals' victory. 

The game also marked the return of former Blue T.J. Oshie, who did not play in the game between the teams in Washington earlier a couple weeks ago; he had an assist on Ovechkin's 50th goal.

Holtby made 19 saves to pick up his 48th win in his 66th game (48-9-7). He tied Martin Brodeur, who was 48-23-7 with the New Jersey Devils in 2006-07. Brodeur, the Blues assistant general manager, was in attendance Saturday. 

Ovechkin became the first player in NHL history to have three straight 50-goal seasons twice; he also did it from 2007-10, and the third player in NHL history to score 50 at least seven times, joining Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy, who each did it nine times. 

The hat trick was Ovechkin's 15th in the NHL, which ties him with Jaromir Jagr for most among active players. 

The Blues (49-24-9) finished with 107 points two behind the Stars.

"We didn't invest," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We didn't look at tonight, we looked at Wednesday. That's how we played. We didn't invest.

"I don't think it matters now. Wednesday's the day and that's what we've got to get ready for."

The Blues will play the Blackhawks in the Western Conference First Round; the Stars will play the Minnesota Wild. 

The Capitals learned earlier Saturday they will play the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference First Round. 

John Carlson had a goal and assist, Jason Chimera scored, and Nicklas Backstrom had three assists for the Capitals (56-17-8), the Presidents' Trophy winners and No. 1 seed in the East. 

Brian Elliott made 22 saves. Elliott, whose Blues-record 11-game winning streak ended, was replaced for the third period by Anders Nilsson, who made nine saves. 

Ovechkin's 50th came off a Backstrom pass for a one-timer that beat Nilsson at 10:35 of the third period, but he was more excited to help Holtby get to Brodeur's record.

Trailing 1-0 on Tarasenko's 40th goal, Ovechkin scored Nos. 48 and 49 in 2:45 span in the first period. He tied it 1-1 after Backstrom found Carlson in the slot, and the defenseman passed to Ovechkin in his favorite spot in the left circle for a slap shot goal at 4:04. 

Ovechkin put Washington up 2-1 after Backstrom won an offensive-zone faceoff to Ovechkin, who took a stride to the high slot and beat Elliott with a wrist shot at 6:49. 

Tarasenko put the Blues ahead 1:15 into the game on a wrist shot from the slot through Holtby's five-hole to become the first Blues player to score 40 goals in a season since Brad Boyes had 43 in 2007-08.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Former Blue T.J. Oshie (right) has a playful exchange with Blues d-man
Kevin Shattenkirk Saturday. It was Oshie's first game back in St. Louis. 

"We got that early goal and I think we kind looked like we fell into a bit of a trap thinking it was going to be like last game (a 4-0 Blues win at Washington on March 26)," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "And they they had a lot of energy after that and they seemed to take over the game. That's the team we thought we were going to see in Washington and they played a heck of a game."

The Capitals scored twice in the second period to take a 4-1 lead. Carlson scored on a backhand from the slot at 5:21 off a Tom Wilson pass, and Chimera's 20th goal came on a backdoor pass from Evgeny Kuznetzov at 10:56. The Capitals are 37-0-1 when leading after two periods.

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