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Washington Capitals clinch top seed, earn Presidents' Trophy with win over New York Rangers

By
Harvey Valentine, The Sports Xchange
Washington Capitals T.J. Oshie (L) and Alex Ovechkin of Russia (R) congratulate Evgeny Kuznetsov of Russia on his goal. File photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI
Washington Capitals T.J. Oshie (L) and Alex Ovechkin of Russia (R) congratulate Evgeny Kuznetsov of Russia on his goal. File photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Capitals wrapped up their second straight Presidents' Trophy on Wednesday night.

There weren't any signs of a celebration afterward.

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Evgeny Kuznetsov had a goal and an assist, Braden Holtby made 24 saves and the Capitals defeated the New York Rangers 2-0, ensuring the best record in the league, but more important in the near term, a Metropolitan Division title.

"No, we didn't mention it," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said of the NHL points title. "All I said was, 'Good work by us.' And then we talked about winning, and we said we wanted to win the Metro and we did."

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The Capitals (54-18-8) secured the top seed in the Eastern Conference and will have home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.

"It means we were the best team in a season, but the most important season is coming soon," Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin said.

It also means they will face the yet-to-be determined second wild card team in the first round while the Pittsburgh Penguins slug it out with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

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Kuznetsov and Ovechkin assisted on Justin Williams' power-play goal that made it 1-0 in the second period. Then at 5:42 of the third, Kuznetsov took a pass from Marcus Johansson on a two-on-one and fired over Henrik Lundqvist's right pad for his 19th goal of the season.

The 24-year-old Kuznetsov was willing to appreciate the Presidents' Trophy win.

"Some guys are going to say they don't care, they lie," Kuznetsov joked afterward. "It's always nice to win something."

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Holtby earned his ninth shutout of the season and his 42nd win, both tops in the NHL.

"Give them a lot of credit," Derek Stepan of the Rangers said. "They're the best team in the league for a reason. They didn't give us a whole lot tonight."

Closing with a flourish, the Capitals are 10-1-1 in their last 12 games. A year ago, Washington clinched much earlier and went 4-3-3 down the stretch.

"Last year we just went through it," Trotz said of the end of the regular season. "This year we're competing."

After posting the best regular-season mark a year ago, Washington lost 4-2 to the eventual Stanley Cup winning Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round. The Penguins are a potential second-round foe again this season.

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Lundqvist stopped 23 shots for the Rangers (47-27-6), who are assured the top Eastern Conference wild card and rested six players.

"He was under control, he was focused. He got a little bit unlucky on that first goal," Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said of Lundqvist, who was playing his fifth game since returning from a hip injury. "But for the most part he made some timely saves and did what a goaltender's supposed to do, give you a chance to win."

In a matchup of the league's best home team and best road squad, visiting New York outshot Washington 9-6 in a scoreless first period. Lundqvist preserved the tie when he stopped a wide-open T.J. Oshie from the slot with 2:50 left in the period.

Shortly after Holtby stopped New York's Kevin Hayes on a two-on-one rush at 12:15 of the second period, Brendan Smith of the Rangers was whistled for a holding the stick penalty.

With 20 seconds left on the power play, Ovechkin took a pass in the left circle from Kuznetsov. He waited momentarily and then wristed a shot that Williams deflected past Lundqvist on the far side at 14:49 of the period.

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"In that situation. I'm trying to cover short side and it went far side," Lundqvist said. "It's tough. It's a hard shot. When they make good plays like that side to side it's hard to be in perfect position to make that block."

NOTES: Washington D John Carlson (lower-body injury) missed his second straight game. ... The Rangers rested a half-dozen players dealing with "bumps and bruises," according to coach Alain Vigneault. They included D Ryan McDonagh, C Mats Zuccarello, LW Rick Nash, RW Jesper Fast, D Nick Holden and D Brady Skjei. ... The Rangers had scored three or more goals in each of their last five games. ... The Capitals have earned a point in 16 of their last 18 games against Metropolitan Division teams (14-2-2).

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