NEWARK, N.J. — The Washington Capitals got a missing piece back and it helped them move within grasping distance of the Presidents’ Trophy — and the top seed when the playoffs start next month.
Defenceman John Carlson scored at 2:17 of overtime in his return to the lineup, Braden Holtby made 22 saves and the Capitals all but clinched the NHL’s best record in the regular season with a 1-0 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Friday night.
“He looked a lot more like he did the first stint of the year,” Holtby said after Carlson played for the first time since Feb. 24, his second injury stint this season. “When he came back (earlier) you could tell there was something still going on. It’s a good sign for us. He looks like he’s moving better, not favouring a leg at all.”
The win gave Washington 111 points. They can clinch their first Presidents’ Trophy since 2009-10 and the No. 1 seed for the playoffs with a point against the Blues on Saturday or Dallas losing earlier in the day.
On the winner, Carlson took a pass from Jason Chimera and ripped a shot from the right circle that beat Scott Wedgewood.
“It was a quick play. I saw him walk down the wall and I had my eye on him and I tried to follow the pass,” said Wedgewood, whose shutout streak was stopped at 159 minutes, 34 seconds. “He put it in a good spot. Take nothing away from him but it would have been nice to keep them off the board for a shootout opportunity.”
Wedgewood, who shut out Pittsburgh on Thursday night, has given up two goals in three NHL starts. He stopped 25 shots Friday.
Chimera took a pass from Marcus Johansson on the winning play, circled the Devils’ net and found Carlson in the circle for his seventh goal of the season.
Carlson sensed that the three Devils on the ice were very tired and he considered not shooting the puck right away to wear them down more, then changed his mind.
“When you score, the net seems a little bit bigger,” said Carlson, who was sidelined 13 games this time. “You feel a little bit better about your game. Maybe it gives you a little bit of pep in your step and that wouldn’t hurt me right now.”
Both goaltenders came up big in the overtime.
Holtby, who picked up his third shutout of the season and his 45th win, fought off Travis Zajac’s shot from between the circles at the start of the 3-on-3.
“It was a weird read,” Holtby said after moving to within three wins of tying Martin Brodeur’s NHL single-season record of 48 wins. “I don’t know if it went off a stick or not. I misread it a little bit. There are a couple of guys on that team that can shoot it.”
Wedgewood stopped a blast by Alex Ovechkin and a breakaway by defenceman Nate Schmidt, although it was unclear whether he made the save or the shot missed the net.
Wedgewood made his NHL debut against Columbus on Sunday and gave up a goal to Jared Boll at 2:43 of the second period in a 2-1 win. He shut out the Penguins 3-0 and blanked the Capitals until the overtime.
“He’s played great since he got here,” Devils forward Kyle Palmieri said. “Hopefully he can keep that going. It makes it a lot harder on other teams. They come in and see that he’s only had three NHL games and they think it’s going to be point night. He goes out and surprises them.”
At least four times in the opening two periods, the Capitals had chances to score and could not find the net.
Ovechkin probably had the best chance on a first period power play, but his shot at an open net hit a player in front and missed the net.
The power play was set up when Devils defenceman Vojtek Mozik tripped Evgeny Kuznetsov with the Capitals centre about to deposit a rebound into an open net.
Jay Beagle of Washington hit a goal post in the second period, while Holtby fought off a backhander by Adam Henrique with less than four minutes left in the second period.
NOTES: Capitals F T.J. Oshie, who has the flu, stayed home. … Devils No. 1 goaltender Cory Schneider has praticed with the team since injuring a knee earlier this month, but he will not play until next week at the earliest, coach John Hynes said. … The game attracted a sellout crowd of 16,514. … Devils D Adam Larsson suffered a cut lip when hit in the face on a third-period shot. He left for repairs and returned. … The win gave the Capitals a franchise record 25 road wins, betting the mark they set in 2009-10. … Caps D Karl Alzner played in his 500th NHL game.