Gonchar powers Sens into playoffs

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Sergei Gonchar’s power-play goal in OT lifted the Ottawa Senators into the NHL’s postseason on Thursday night.

The Senators’ bench erupts after Sergei Gonchar’s OT winner Thursday night. Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Sergei Gonchar put the Ottawa Senators into the playoffs.
Gonchar scored on a power play in overtime to give the Senators a 2-1 victory over the Washington Capitals on Thursday night, ending any and all drama surrounding the Sens’ entry into the postseason.
Of course, the Senators made it a little harder on themselves than they had to, allowing the Capitals to take the game to overtime.
“It feels great,” captain Daniel Alfredsson said. “It has been a grind, no question, but we’ve stuck with it. There have been some ups and downs, but overall, it has been a really good season for us, considering all the injuries we had.”
Before the game, the magic number for the Senators to make the playoffs was two: any combination of points earned by the Senators and/or lost by the Winnipeg Jets adding up to two, would do the trick.
The Senators came into Thursday’s game aiming to take any and all drama out of the situation.
The goal was to simple. Win and end all the scoreboard watching.
While the Senators still have two games remaining in the regular season — Saturday against Philadelphia and Sunday in Boston — they certainly didn’t want to extend the drama into the weekend.
They also didn’t want to be in the position of waiting to watch to see if Winnipeg would lose later Thursday night against Montreal, which would have allowed the Senators to back into the postseason.
The Senators appeared on their way to a regulation victory after Jakob Silfverberg scored in the second period, deflecting an Erik Karlsson shot past Capitals goaltender Michal Neuvirth. Karlsson was outstanding in his return from a 10-week absence following Achilles tendon surgery. He also had an assist on Gonchar’s OT winner and played 27 minutes 11 seconds.
“Overall, I think it was a solid, solid game. I still have to work through some mistakes and clean those up,” Karlsson said. “I would have been happy if I sat in the stands and we won this game, that was the main goal.
“It felt good. My conditioning felt good and I think the coach realized that and put me out there when it was my turn.”
But Alex Ovechkin — who else? — tied the game 1-1 with 11:29 remaining in the third period.
Ovechkin caught Senators defenceman Chris Phillips flat-footed and made a nifty deke around Craig Anderson, scoring his league-leading 32nd goal. The goal resulted in chants of “MVP, MVP” from the Verizon Center crowd.
The Senators were muttering other things. Only seconds before Ovechkin’s goal, a possible second goal by Silfverberg was waved off after referee Tim Peel ruled that Mika Zibanejad had interfered with Neuvirth.
Until Ovechkin’s goal, the Senators had delivered a solid — if not spectacular — game and had taken the game to the Capitals at the start of the third period.
Early on, Anderson had to be sharp in keeping the game scoreless.
After a decent start by the Senators, the Capitals picked up the pace in the second half of the period, testing Anderson in close.
Anderson slipped across the crease to rob Mike Green when the Capitals defenceman jumped up from his blue-line position seven minutes into the period. Anderson was sharp during a Capitals’ power play when Chris Neil went off for boarding. Anderson also made a fine blocker stop off the game’s other Carlson — Capitals’ defenceman John Carlson — late in the period.
The Capitals, who clinched the Southeast Division title and the third seed in the playoffs on Tuesday, came into the game on a 10-1 run, the only defeat in that stretch coming against the Senators on April 18.
Ovechkin, playing his 600th career game Thursday and making his claim for both the Hart Trophy as league most valuable player and the Rocket Richard Trophy for goal-scoring leader, had scored 23 goals and 11 assists in 21 games before Thursday’s game.
The Capitals gave No. 1 goaltender Braden Holtby the night off, as back-up Neuvirth played his first game since April 9. Neuvirth owned a 4-1-0 record against the Senators before the game, but that one defeat came against Ottawa on Jan. 29.
Erik Karlsson, Senators: Karlsson returned from Achilles tendon surgery after 10 weeks and played a whopping 27 minutes 11 seconds and assisted on both Senators’ goals.
Mike Ribeiro, Capitals: He felt the shame, sitting in the penalty box when Gonchar’s shot slipped past Michal Neuvirth.
The power play looked much sharper with Erik Karlsson back in the picture and it delivered when it had to.
No big secret about why the Capitals won the Southeast Division. They are 15-3-0 against divisional opponents. They are 11-15-3 against the rest of the Eastern Conference.