NEW YORK — John Tortorella blew off a question about the Washington Capitals before the New York Rangers’ game Saturday night.
“I don’t care,” he said. “I don’t know anything about them. We’re going to worry about ourselves.”
Maybe the Rangers and their coach should have studied up. The Caps made a statement with this 4-1 victory at Madison Square Garden and went into the playoffs on a winning note.
“I don’t know if it’s a statement win. It’s just we wanted to come in and play a good hockey game,” forward Brooks Laich said. “That was it. This time of year you don’t ever want to let anybody think that they can beat you, and you certainly don’t want to have that losing feeling.”
They’ll be the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference and face the second-seeded Boston Bruins in the first round.
It was domination from the net out, as Braden Holtby shined in his first Garden appearance and the Caps jumped all over Vezina Trophy front-runner Henrik Lundqvist and buried the top seed in the East on the final day of the regular season.
It started early, and a scoring onslaught, combined with Holtby’s brilliance (35 saves on 36 shots), added up to arguably the best first period under coach Dale Hunter.
Alex Ovechkin scored 32 seconds in, blasting one past Vezina Trophy front-runner Henrik Lundqvist on the game’s first shot. Mathieu Perreault’s deflection goal made it 2-0 just 2:18 in. By the time John Carlson scored to make it 3-0, that looked like just gravy.
“I think it was good to get that quick start and get those couple goals early,” defenseman Dennis Wideman said. “Obviously you always want to win your last game of the season no matter what the circumstance.”
Holtby did serious work in net to make his first game at the Garden a memorable one. He had watched games here before but never played, let alone starred, in one. That changed Saturday night, as he didn’t have to be spectacular but again handled a pressure situation with nothing but poise.
The 22-year-old who’s all but certain to open the playoffs as the Caps’ starter thrived and did some of his best work when it was most necessary, bailing out his defensemen when they made blunders. Twice Marian Gaborik turned Caps defenders inside out, and Holtby came up with clutch saves.
“Myself and our team, I can see by the way that they played today and know that they’re going to battle through it and do everything we can,” a confident Holtby said.
It was the kind of performance all over the ice that inspires confidence that the Caps could make good on preseason expectations and at least make something of a playoff run. Of course, that would require several more nights like this one.
Ideally, starting next week at TD Garden. The series will likely start with Game 1 on Thursday and continue on with Game 2 on Saturday.
“Being able to beat the No. 1 team in the conference going into the playoffs here gives us some confidence,” right wing Troy Brouwer said. “We’ve had a little success against [the Bruins] this season, and I like the way our game is right now going into the playoffs.”