Capitals clinch East with win over Senators

Nicklas Backstrom scores the game-winner for the Capitals as they beat the Senators 4-2 and clinch the top seed in the Eastern Conference on Tuesday.

OTTAWA — The Ottawa Senators saw first hand why the Washington Capitals are the best team in the league.

The Capitals clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference with a 4-2 victory over the Senators Tuesday night.

“It’s huge,” said Alex Ovechkin. “I think we deserve how we play all year to clinch it. Right now, 10 games left, I think we just have to play more simple and be ready for the playoffs.”

Washington jumped out to a 3-0 lead by the 14-minute mark of the first period and, despite a valiant effort, the Senators were no match for the league-leading Capitals (52-15-5).

``We didn't really give ourselves a chance to win this game even though we battled back and got one late again, but that's not how you win games in this league,'' said Senators captain Erik Karlsson. ``They showed that they were a better team than us and it's as simple as that.''

The loss comes on the heels of a promise for change from owner Eugene Melnyk, who earlier in the day called the season, ``just a total roller coaster of hope and despair.''

While players said Melnyk's comments weren't a distraction prior to the game, one can't help but think it impacted the players, especially considering Melnyk's criticism of head coach Dave Cameron.

``I don't think anyone was personally called out,'' said Karlsson. ``I haven't seen the full comments, but I think it's an overall. Even with those comments made I think he includes himself in there. He's an owner that cares and he knows that he needs to do something different and step it up too. I don't think it was directed to any specific person at all whether it was players, coaches or management.''

Mike Richards, Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie, with an empty net, scored for the Capitals as Braden Holtby stopped 28 shots.

Chris Wideman and Mika Zibanejad scored for the Senators (34-32-8). Craig Anderson made 18 saves.

The Senators also lost defenceman Dion Phaneuf as he took a hit from Brooks Orpik in the second period. Phaneuf managed to play a few more shifts, but did not return for the third period due to a lower-body injury. Phaneuf did not travel with the team and will not play against the Islanders Wednesday night. Fredrik Claesson will be called up from Binghamton.

Trailing 3-1, the Senators best opportunity in the third came on the power play, but Ottawa has been terrible with the man advantage -- going 0-for-27 through 10 games and 0 for 4 on Tuesday.

``We're getting some looks and we're doing some good things, but it's not enough,'' said Zibanejad. ``It's not enough when you don't win games. We just need to get better.''

Zibanejad gave life to the 19,313 on hand, scoring at 18:27 from a sharp angle as the puck went in off Holtby. But the Senators were unable to complete the comeback and Oshie iced the game with an empty-net goal.

The Capitals were pleased with how they started the game, but know they need to be better for 60 minutes.

``Obviously we had a very good start,'' said Ovechkin. ``Scored three goals right away and didn't give them anything, but we just have to continue to play all three periods like that. I think in the second we felt a little bit loose and tried to play fancy hockey and you can see it's not going to work like that.''

Washington led 3-0 before the Senators got on board midway through the second as Wideman managed to get a shot through traffic to beat Holtby.

Washington opened the scoring at 2:32 after a couple bad defensive plays left Richards all alone out front. Ovechkin then scored his 43rd of the season on the power play midway through the period after taking a great pass from Marcus Johansson to bury it past Anderson. Just over two minutes later Backstrom made it 3-0.

The Senators best opportunity to get back in the game came with a 1:03 two-man advantage late in the period, but they were unable to create any great chances.

Notes: Ottawa RW Chris Neil was a late scratch due to illness. Ryan Dzingel played in his place. Mark Stone wore an 'A' in Neil's absence. Washington C Michael Latta, RW Stanislav Galiev and D Nate Schmidt were healthy scratches.