- The Washington Times - Monday, April 11, 2016

When the names of the four players who would be scratched for the Washington Capitals’ regular-season finale flashed across the video board about 15 minutes before it began on Sunday, a drawn-out, almost indifferent, somewhat obligatory boo resounded from somewhere in the upper bowl.

Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson and Brooks Orpik did not play against the Anaheim Ducks, and in noting that they did not play, it should be clarified that they did not even put on a uniform, as opposed to their teammates who did put on a uniform and did not play.

The game was, in many regards, little more than an exhibition for the Capitals — one tacked on to the end of their season, one that was, for them, more September than June. As they learned the night before the Philadelphia Flyers would be their first-round playoff opponent, the only thing worth playing for was their health, and perhaps a bit of pride; then again, their superiority had been sewn up in their seizure of the Presidents’ Trophy late last month, the earliest team to do so in 14 years.

“I know Philadelphia had a bunch of scouts here tonight,” coach Barry Trotz said afterward. “I think they had three watching us, but I don’t know if they’ll get a whole lot from that game. Seriously.”

It was quite the opposite for the Ducks, who claimed a 2-0 victory and, with it, a fourth consecutive Pacific Division title in a game that was rescheduled from Jan. 22. Anaheim sent two players, center Ryan Kesler and goaltender John Gibson, back home after Saturday’s road loss to the Colorado Avalanche, but otherwise played most of their regulars — including right wing Corey Perry, the Ducks’ second-leading scorer, who netted their first goal.

The seeds of Washington’s approach were planted earlier in the week when, on Friday, Trotz swatted aside the insinuation that this game would be a dress rehearsal for the playoffs. He did not publicly commit to a lineup before the game, causing his counterpart, Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau, to deadpan that it was the first time he was actually looking forward to warmups.

Exit Ovechkin, Backstrom, Carlson and Orpik, all of whom missed time with some sort of injury during the season, and Jay Beagle, who injured his left foot on Saturday. Ovechkin, who sat out of a game for only the 29th time in his 11 seasons, watched at least portion of the first period from the press box, then wandered down to the concourse during the first intermission, high-fiving wide-eyed fans.

“We made all the changes,” Trotz said, “and away we went.”

The game suffered from the same general malaise that had affected the Capitals for much of the past month, especially once the only intrigue — whether Braden Holtby, who had tied Martin Brodeur’s single-season record for wins by a goaltender the night before, would get an attempt to break it — was lost.

Washington managed just six shots on goal in the first period, with Nate Schmidt, a defenseman who had scored only twice all season, leading his team with a whopping two attempts. By the middle of the second period, it felt like an all-out exhibition, especially when Perry and fourth-line left wing Nick Ritchie scored within 2:02.

At that point, when the crowd responded, in unison, with its traditional chorus of “Who cares?” following a delayed announcement of Ritchie’s goal, it seemed to be less a rhetorical question and more of a legitimate one.

“Not a bad effort, though, for the last one,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said, “when there’s not a whole lot on the line for us and we’re thinking about next week more than we are tonight.”

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