WASHINGTON (AP) — Alex Ovechkin scored twice to make it an NHL-leading 49 goals as the Washington Capitals beat the New Jersey Devils 5-3 Saturday night in each team’s regular-season finale.
Serenaded by chants of “We want 50,” Ovechkin wrapped up his seventh Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal-scorer and came one short of his eighth 50-goal season. Ovechkin scored for the third consecutive game and is the oldest player to lead the NHL in goals since Phil Esposito in 1974-75.
By beating the Devils in regulation, the Metropolitan Division-champion Capitals ensured they wouldn’t face them in the first round of the playoffs. Playing without MVP front-runner Taylor Hall, New Jersey fell to the second wild card in the Eastern Conference and will open on the road against the Atlantic Division winner — either Boston or Tampa Bay.
Nicklas Backstrom, Michal Kempny and Andre Burakovsky also scored, and Braden Holtby stopped 23 of the 26 shots in his final chance to show he deserves to be Washington’s Game 1 starting goaltender over Philipp Grubauer. The Capitals will face either Columbus or Philadelphia in the first round after the Flyers clinched the East’s final spot Saturday afternoon.
Trade-deadline pickup Patrick Maroon had a goal and two assists, and rookie Nico Hischier and Miles Wood each scored for New Jersey. Cory Schneider, who lost his starting job to Keith Kinkaid, allowed five goals on 25 shots and failed to pick up what would have been his first victory since late December.
Ovechkin’s pursuit of 50 goals injected life into a game lacking some intensity with the Capitals and Devils already in the playoffs and looking eager to get that journey under way. The Russian superstar attempted 18 shots and got eight on net.
In addition to Hall, New Jersey rested first-line winger Kyle Palmieri, top-six center Travis Zajac, No. 1 defenseman Sami Vatanen and Kinkaid with an eye toward the playoffs. The Capitals rested second-line right winger T.J. Oshie, who has been dealing with a lower-body injury. Fourth-line center Jay Beagle missed his third consecutive game with an upper-body injury.
NOTES: With the primary assist on Kempny’s goal, Capitals F Shane Gersich picked up his first NHL point in his third game. … Ovechkin, Capitals D Dmitry Orlov and John Carlson and Hischier played all 82 games this season.
Devils: Open at the Bruins or Lightning in their first playoff appearance since 2012.
Capitals: Host the Blue Jackets or Flyers to start the first round.
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