- The Washington Times - Monday, September 26, 2011

The Washington Capitals’ race for the final roster spot is down to four players. Through three preseason games, Cody Eakin, Mattias Sjogren, Chris Bourque and Mathieu Perreault did little to distinguish themselves from the pack.

Then there was Monday night at Verizon Center, when Eakin, Bourque and Perreault skated on a line together and did just about everything to stand out — but they did it together in the 3-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets and didn’t make the choice any easier.

There’s still no clear leader, as Perreault scored and had an assist, Eakin had a goal and Bourque had three assists. All three undersized young players had some trouble in the physical areas but brought the offensive spark that you’d expect from guys competing to make an NHL team.

“I think it was a good game, a good showcase for all three of us,” Bourque said. “It was the kind of game that we need to be playing — energizing the team and buzzing around in their zone and creating scoring chances for ourselves and capitalizing on them like we did.”

All three cashing in on their chances was evident, especially on the second goal of the game. Perreault won a puck battle along the boards to get it to Bourque behind the net, and then Bourque faked like he was skating around to the other side before lifting a gorgeous back-handed pass to Eakin in the slot. Eakin ripped it past Blue Jackets goalie Curtis Sanford with relative ease.

Later on, it was some veteran stickhandling and patience by Roman Hamrlik that set up Perreault’s goal — a point-blank shot from the side of the crease.

But it wasn’t just the offensive production that impressed the coaching staff.

“All together they meshed together fairly well,” Boudreau said. “They all played really good. They all competed, they did their job, they played defensively pretty well. It was a good game for all three of them.”

Putting all three guys on one line was done in part to try to raise their game in the competition, but a bigger reason was their comfort level with each other. Perreault and Bourque played together with the Hershey Bears during two Calder Cup runs (2008-09 and 2009-10), and Eakin joined in for the playoffs in 2010.

Because of that familiarity, Boudreau wasn’t worried about any of them being in “awe” of a linemate.

“Sometimes you put, say, a Perreault between a Semin and somebody else, he’s going, ‘Man I’ve got to get him the puck. I’ve got to do this.’ So you don’t play your game,” Boudreau said. “But you put him with two guys that he’s been with and played with, he feels comfortable because he doesn’t have to impress them.”

Instead, Perreault, Eakin and Bourque impressed just about everybody else watching.

But it’s still a contest — even if the players don’t want to admit it.

“We don’t really like to say that we’re competing against each other because we’re all friends here and we hope the best for everybody,” Perreault said. “And if we’re playing that good together, we’re just happy for each other.”

When it comes down to final cuts, it’s likely that just one of the group will make it. It’s entirely possible that none do, especially if Sjogren impresses in his final three preseason games.

But Bourque is fond of saying he’s not worried about how the other candidates play because he can’t control that. And on this night, he and his linemates took a big step toward controlling their own fate.

“The only thing you can control is how you play and giving it your best effort every shift that you get out there,” Bourque said. “I think that’s what all three of us did tonight is work pretty hard and got it in deep and made the smart plays, and it paid off.”

Notes – Goalie Michal Neuvirth played the entire game and finished with 22 saves on 23 shots. … Dennis Wideman scored the Caps’ first goal, on a point shot on the power play.

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