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After win over Bruins, Capitals shift focus toward playoffs originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

After Michael Raffl’s shot somehow found the top of the Bruins’ net to give the Capitals a lead with just three seconds to play, the focus, if it hadn’t already, shifted to what was next. 

The Capitals and Bruins played in a game that didn’t mean much for the standings on a night when the Bruins rested essentially their entire lineup. The Capitals were without Evgeny Kuznetsov, John Carlson and T.J. Oshie. The playoff matchup between the two teams was already set before puck drop.

And at 7:15 p.m. on Saturday, they’ll square off in Game 1 at the same building when everyone that’s healthy will be back in uniform. 

Tuesday at Capital One Arena served little importance, if any at all, to the next handful of days. But in a 2-1 win close to at the buzzer, the Capitals are thankful no one left with any injuries and hopeful they can use the night as a jump before the playoffs begin. 

“It is always good to get a win, I think that is always important,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “I said it this morning, you never know where those two points will play out in the season. It is either going to be a win or a loss so I think just from turning the page and closing the book on the regular season, I think it is good with that regard.”

The Capitals clinched the second seed in the East Division by virtue of their come-from-behind win Saturday. The Bruins made sure they were the third seed by pushing Monday’s game against the Islanders to overtime. 

That set up a weird affair Tuesday, where neither side had any pressing issues at hand. In fact, the most important note of the game for both sides was making sure everyone stayed healthy. Because if history is any indicator, the upcoming first round series should be a wildly intense and physical best-of-7. 

“It’s two really good hockey teams going at it, but all we can do is prepare ourselves and get ready for Saturday,” Raffl said. “We can’t change what they’re doing. We’ve got to prepare ourselves and I think we’re ready and hungry to go, so everybody’s very excited.”

The issues for the Capitals entering the first round are obvious. While they got captain Alex Ovechkin back Tuesday, they were still without Oshie, Carlson, Kuznetsov and goaltender Ilya Samsonov. Oshie and Carlson have lower-body injuries while Kuznetsov and Samsonov are in COVID protocol. 

So as the Capitals enter the next three days of preparation to face what might be the best team in the division since the trade deadline, they’ll face the age-old “rest or rust” conundrum. 

“Everybody finished the game, so that was a good thing,” Laviolette said. “We will start the process to prepare for the Bruins. Obviously we have seen them enough. We will make sure we are prepared and we are ready. We will make sure we are rested. We will do our best to keep the injuries in the maintenance area and get them taken care of and hopefully get more guys back on the ice. This is just, close it out tonight, but when we wake up tomorrow and it is playoff time.”

In a wild year from the start, the Capitals will slowly get signs of normalcy back as the playoffs creep up. Capital One Arena will be 25 percent full on Saturday in its first playoff game since 2019. The Capitals, presumably, will continue to get healthier as the days wear on. Because now, the next four to seven Bruins matchups won’t be irrelevant at all.

“It doesn’t matter who you’re going to play in the playoffs,” Ovechkin said. “Obviously, it’s going to be a big battle. It’s two good teams playing against each other. It’s going to be an interesting series and I think both teams can’t wait for when it’s going to start. The season is over and now it’s time to play cool hockey.”