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It’s crystal clear: the Washington Capitals are far and away the best team in the Eastern Conference and maybe the NHL. They finished the 2009-2010 season with at least 20 more points than any other East squad, tallying 54 wins against just 15 regulation losses. They carry a 50-goal scorer, a 40-goal scorer, a 30-goal scorer, and four 20-goal scorers as part of the NHL’s best offense (316 total goals).
The Bruins, who feature the NHL’s worst offense, faced the daunting task of playing the Capitals in Washington twice in the season’s final week. Needing to rack up points and wins to ensure a playoff spot, the Bruins did just that. They suffered an overtime loss to the Caps last Monday, and countered with a 4-3 overtime win of their own against the same Caps on Sunday.
In collecting three points over the Caps this week, the Bruins moved themselves out of the eighth spot and into the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Therefore by beating the Capitals, the Bruins avoid facing them in the first round of the playoffs (and likely face an early exit). Instead, they will take on division-rival Buffalo or the New Jersey Devils next week.
A few of the season’s biggest goats shined on Sunday, including now-backup goaltender Tim Thomas. Thomas racked up 34 saves on 37 shots, and also stopped all four shots in the shootout to pick up the win. The soon-to-be 36-year-old Thomas finished the year with 16-18-8 record and a 2.55 goals against average.
Another goat, Michael Ryder, provided most of the offensive production for the Bruins. Entering the game, Ryder hadn’t scored since March 16 and had only one goal since the NHL resumed play after the Olympic Break. Remember, Peter Chiarelli signed Ryder to score goals. When he doesn’t score goals, he’s utterly useless. On Sunday, Ryder blasted two first-period goals to give him 18 for the year.
Ryder’s tallies were sandwiched by two Washington goals: Alexander Semin’s 40th less than three minutes in, and Eric Belanger’s 15th with five minutes to go in the period.
Washington took a 3-2 lead when former Bruin Mike Knuble scored his 29th midway through the third period. German Olympian Marco Sturm evened the score with less than five minutes to go, allowing the Bruins to sneak out the win in the shootout on goals by David Krejci and Mirslav Satan.
Alexander Ovechkin, who finished tied for first in the NHL with 50 goals and second with 109 points, was held pointless despite five shots on goal.
The Bruins, with their playoff fate already sealed, rested a number of players, including Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Mark Recchi, and Tuukka Rask.
Looking ahead, the Bruins will lock horns with the Buffalo Sabres or the New Jersey Devils depending on the outcome of Sunday’s games.