- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 9, 2020

Todd Reirden’s Washington Capitals finally posted a win in the round-robin portion of the NHL’s restart in Canada.

Their reward? A meeting with none other than Reirden’s former boss and the lone coach to lead the franchise to a Stanley Cup.

The Capitals closed out the first week of meaningful games in the Toronto bubble by beating the Boston Bruins 2-1, earning themselves the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and setting up a first-round series with Barry Trotz and the New York Islanders.

Capitals goalie Braden Holtby made 30 saves, continuing a stellar run in net. T.J. Oshie and Tom Wilson scored for the Capitals, who finished the round robin with three standings points (1-1-1).

Alex Ovechkin said it took him and his teammates some time to adjust to the feel of the ice and the speed of the game during the round robin, which pitted the four best teams in each conference to determine their seeding.

“But I think today’s game was pretty similar (to) what we’re going to see in the next rounds,” Ovechkin said. “Obviously, we’re going to play the Islanders and we know their system well. It’s going to be tight games. It’s going to be a tough matchup and tough games. So it’s not going to be easy.”

“I think we’re getting better throughout all three games and this was an important one to set us up on the right foot,” Wilson added. “Like O said, we know what it takes.”

The Capitals had only mustered one shot on goal before Oshie opened the scoring with 16 seconds left. Just outside the crease, Oshie intercepted the puck from Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara and wristed it past goalie Tuukka Rask in one fell swoop.

Just before Oshie’s goal, Reirden used his last change as the home-team coach to put Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom on the ice with Ovechkin to exploit a matchup. He decided to keep that combo for the remainder of the game, while having Wilson and Evgeny Kuznetsov join Jakub Vrana on the second line.

“I was able to put the guys out that I wanted,” Reirden said. “I liked the look of it and was kind of, ‘We’ll see how this goes from here,’ and I liked it. I thought all six of those guys performed better than they had in prior games. That’s the great thing about those six players, is we can move them all around and give quite a few looks to the opposition. It makes us a very difficult matchup team.”

The Capitals controlled more of the puck in the middle frame, generating better chances both at 5-on-5 and on a pair of power plays. But it wasn’t until early in the third that another goal found the net.

From the defensive zone, Ilya Kovalchuk angled a pass off the boards and up the ice. Wilson beat out two Bruins defenders, caught up to the puck and flipped it past Rask into the top-right corner of the pipes.

Jake DeBrusk ruined Holtby’s would-be shutout midway through the third with a quick five-hole goal. Ondrej Kase snuck his stick between two Capitals defenders to get the puck ahead to DeBrusk.

But the Capitals’ defense, often a question mark this season, held the Bruins at bay the rest of the game, even when they pulled Rask to go 6-on-5 in the final 90 seconds.

Wilson felt the Capitals’ team defense has been building upon some good things — and needs to keep building. That benefits Holtby, who has maintained a .925 save percentage in the past three games and looks even stronger than that number suggests.

“Put a lot of work in the last couple months and had to fix a few things and work on a few things over the break to strengthen up,” Holtby said, “and every game we played here you get a little more stamina and more and more comfortable, and I think the whole group is pretty comfortable going into round one now.”

John Carlson, Washington’s best defenseman, sat out for the third straight game as a precautionary measure for an undisclosed injury he suffered in an exhibition game in late July. He has practiced with the team, so in all likelihood he will be ready to go in the next round.

Martin Fehervary, one of the team’s top prospects, made his playoff debut in Carlson’s place and landed a game-high seven hits. But Reirden said he was “hopeful” Carlson would be ready to play in Game 1 against the Islanders.

Center Lars Eller also sat out; he returned to the NHL bubble after being with his wife for the birth of their second child, but now must test negative for COVID-19 four times in a four-day period before rejoining the Capitals.

The first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs will begin Tuesday. The Capitals-Islanders series will start at 3 p.m. on Wednesday.

“It’s something that’ll be obviously a great matchup for the Washington Capitals and New York Islanders,” Reirden said. “It’s not Barry Trotz vs. Todd Reirden or any of those type of things.”

• Adam Zielonka can be reached at azielonka@washingtontimes.com.

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