Vitek Vanecek shines as weary Capitals close road trip with win in Arizona

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Washington Capitals’ 2-0 win Friday night against the cellar-dwelling Arizona Coyotes was an explicit test of mental endurance. The Capitals were playing their fifth and final game of their extended road trip, capping off a long stretch by facing a far inferior team with little to play for.

Goaltender Vitek Vanecek (19 saves) came through with his fourth shutout of the season and Conor Sheary’s first period goal was the early spark Washington needed. John Carlson’s empty-netter with 35.2 seconds left sealed the victory. The goal was Carlson’s 16th of the season, a career-high.

The Coyotes, losers of nine straight, couldn’t get any offense going to aid goalie Karel Vejmelka, who stopped 27 of Washington’s 28 shots.

“It’s not exactly the easiest game to play in, end of a road trip,” defenseman Justin Schultz said. “[Vanecek] made some big saves for us there in the end. We got the two points, and this time of year that’s pretty much all that matters.“

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Washington went 3-1-1 during its highly successful road trip. The Capitals pulled even in points with Pittsburgh for third place in the Metropolitan Division and with Boston for the first wild card in the East.

”To take seven points on the road, on a long road trip, it’s a good job by our guys,” Sheary said.

The Capitals’ next game is Sunday at home against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Before Friday, the Capitals had not experienced much luck in Glendale, going 3-5-2 in its previous 10 games.

Forward T.J. Oshie said Friday morning that mentally, the game against the Coyotes carried more weight than a game against some other top opponents in the league. It was a test of how well the team could play on any given night.

“It really shouldn’t matter who we play, no matter if we are up or down in the game, we need to play our game for the full 60 and most times we are going to have success with that,” Oshie said.

Vanecek, who came into the game averaging 2.67 goals against this season, had a solid showing as the postseason nears. Washington still has a major goaltending question headed into the playoffs, with Capitals Coach Peter Laviolette yet to name the team’s starter. Vanecek’s Friday start was his first since an 8-4 win over the Canadiens in Montreal last week. Ilya Samsonov started three of the first four games on Washington’s road trip.

Against Arizona, Vanecek looked shaky early, letting a puck slip past and hit the far post early in the opening frame. However, he kept his form in the sluggish contest.

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”It’s one thing when you’re feeling the puck all the time and you’re in a rhythm,” Laviolette said Friday night. “There’s not much going on and all of a sudden you’ve got be incredible. So he really did a good job of that tonight.”

Sheary gave Washington a 1-0 lead at 11:33 of the first with his backhand on a rebound at the left post. Sheary’s goal, his 18th of the season, was sandwiched between two near misses from the Coyotes and clinched the second-highest total in his career. He had 23 goals during the 2016-17 season with Pittsburgh.

Anthony Mantha nearly opened up a 2-0 lead early in the second period, but he hit the post with force. The Capitals got the puck in the net once more in the middle frame, off a strong shift from Nic Dowd’s line, but officials ruled Garnet Hathaway played the puck with a high stick.

In the official ruling from the league, video review confirmed that Hathaway’s stick was above the height of the crossbar when it made contact with the puck, which then deflected off an Arizona player before entering the Coyotes’ net.

Here’s what else to know about the Capitals’ win:

Last game in Glendale

The Capitals played their final game at Glendale’s Gila River Arena. The Coyotes will play in Arizona State University’s new 5,000-seat multipurpose arena in Tempe for at least the 2022-23 and 2023-24 seasons. The on-campus arena will also be shared with the Sun Devils’ NCAA hockey team.

The multipurpose arena will be the Coyotes’ temporary home while it negotiates a new arena deal in Tempe.

The farewell to the Glendale arena will be bittersweet for Washington. Ovechkin scored “The Goal” at the arena in Jan. 2006.

Larsson returns to Arizona

Johan Larsson played his first game in Glendale since the Coyotes traded him to Washington at the trade deadline in mid-March. Larsson had six goals and nine assists in 29 games for Arizona before being traded to Washington. He came to the Capitals fresh off a long rehab stint following sports hernia surgery.

In 10 games with Washington, Larsson has been a solid asset on the fourth-line. He fits in smoothly both offensively and defensively with linemates Dowd and Hathaway. He was a 1-for-1 replacement for Carl Hagelin, who is out indefinitely after having eye surgery in early March. Larsson has four assists in his past six games.


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