WASHINGTON – Heading into the very last game of the NHL regular season, Shawn Thornton and the Boston Bruins know a victory over Ottawa on Sunday will earn a Northeast Division title and No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The Bruins certainly hope they don’t give away a two-goal lead amid a flurry of penalties, the way they did in their next-to-last game.
The Bruins slid into second place in the division Saturday night, behind the Montreal Canadiens, after a 3-2 loss to the Washington Capitals on Eric Fehr’s power-play goal 3:23 into overtime.
“We can’t really dwell on this one. We’ve got a big one tomorrow now,” Thornton said. “We made it a little bit tough on ourselves.”
The Bruins will host the Senators on Sunday night in a game rescheduled because of the Boston Marathon bombings. The season was supposed to end Saturday.
Boston began the day in a tie for first place in the division with Montreal, which beat Toronto 4-1 to grab a one-point lead.
“It’s good that there are no games that don’t matter,” Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask said. “Every game has mattered this season, and that’s the way it’s going to be until the end.”
If Boston beats Ottawa, the Bruins will be the No. 2 seed. Otherwise the Canadiens will be No. 2 and the Bruins will be No. 4.
“We want to win that division,” Bruins Coach Claude Julien said, “so we’re going to play to win tomorrow — no ifs, ands or buts.”
The Capitals, in contrast, had nothing at stake Saturday night, already having clinched the Southeast Division championship and the No. 3 seed in the East. The Capitals know their opponent for the first round of the playoffs: the New York Rangers. It’s the fourth time in the last five seasons that the Capitals and Rangers meet in the postseason.
“We know what to expect,” said Capitals defenseman Mike Green, who scored two goals on power plays within less than two minutes in the third period.
That tied the game after Boston took a 2-0 lead on goals by Milan Lucic in the first period and Andrew Ference in the second.
Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin assisted on both of Green’s goals. And while the Russian didn’t score himself, he finished the season with a league-leading 32 goals. He also topped the NHL in goals in 2007-08 and 2008-09.
“It feels good. I didn’t win personal awards a couple years in a row, so it’s nice to come back,” Ovechkin said.
Asked whether he has space at home for another trophy, Ovechkin grinned and replied: “Yeah, I just moved into a new house, so there’s lots of room there.”
Washington’s first-year coach, Adam Oates, held a closed-door team meeting in the locker room after beating Boston.
“We talked a little bit about focus from now on,” Oates said. “We came a long way to get this far, and we obviously want to go a lot further. So we talked about rest and focus.”
It was Green who took a shot in overtime that was blocked by Rask, and Fehr was in the right spot to poke in the rebound. Bruins captain Zdeno Chara was in the penalty box after a hooking call.
“We knew, coming into the game, that we had to stay out of the penalty box,” Julien said.
“Ended up costing us the game.”
Saturday was a rematch of a tight and testy first-round playoff series won by Washington in seven games last season, and things got scrappy this time, too. In the closing minutes of regulation, Chara slammed Washington center Nicklas Backstrom into the boards in a corner, dislodging a piece of glass. Seconds later, Ovechkin and Boston’s Brad Marchand exchanged some words and shoves, and both got roughing penalties.
While the Capitals start preparing for the Rangers, the Bruins won’t know their first playoff opponent until after the game Sunday against the Senators.
“It’s important,” Lucic said. “It’s what you fight for all year long — to be at the top of your division.”