- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 5, 2017

On the one hand, the Capitals began Wednesday night’s game against the rival New York Rangers with a chance to clinch the Presidents’ Trophy and both the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference titles. Exciting stuff.

On the other hand, they were coming off a back-to-back and a very late return from Toronto, and facing a team with nothing left to play for. So, they’ll take the 2-0 win, and worry about how they got there another time. As we all learned in Monday night’s National Championship game, they can’t all be Rembrandts.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” coach Barry Trotz said after the game. “This was going to be a tough one coming home from a long road trip. We had multiple time zones. I thought we got stronger. The first was so-so. I thought we got stronger and stronger, and I thought we managed it much better in the second and third.”

Trotz was right about the first period being so-so — unless you like hapless passing and muted aggression. The Capitals took only six shots, the Rangers only nine, and the two teams were scoreless heading into the first intermission.

“It’s the night you love to hate. You have to play this night,” Evgeny Kuznetsov said.

It took until 5:11 remained in the second period for Justin Williams to break the scoreless tie. The goal, which was originally credited to Alex Ovechkin but given to Williams after the game and subsequent review, came on a 4-on-3 power play after Karl Alzner and Jimmy Vesey were given matching roughing minors after a shoving match, and Brendan Smith was called for holding the stick.

Kuznetsov and Ovechkin were credited with assists.

The same group was on the ice for the Capitals’ other goal, which Kuznetsov scored to provide a bit of cushion after 5:42 in the third. That time it was Williams and Marcus Johansson who assisted.

“For periods, we were playing real well and I think that’s when we really move the puck quick and use each other a lot out there,” Johansson said. “Because when we do that and we move our feet I think we’re really tough to stop. When we play the right way and we use each other out there, I think we’re a really good line.”

The Capitals finished with 25 shots to the Rangers‘ 24, playing against a watered-down New York lineup.

The Rangers entered the game locked into their first-round playoff matchup with Montreal, so New York had nothing to play for and rested several starters. Rich Nash, Mats Zuccarello, Ryan McDonagh, Jesper Fast, Nick Holden and Brady Skjei were all scratched.

Skjei and Holden were added to the list of scratches just hours before the game, while coach Alain Vigneault had already ruled out the rest of the group to help them recover from minor injuries.

The Capitals sat defensemen John Carlson, who has a lower-body injury, and Taylor Chorney as well as center Paul Carey, but played most of their horses.

Still, Washington clinched the Presidents’ Trophy for the second consecutive season and the third time in team history. That’s fairly impressive any way you slice it but, of course, the team wasn’t eager to talk about the accomplishment given what has followed in playoffs past.

The Capitals have two games left in the regular season, playing next in Boston on Friday, before the real challenge begins.

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