Vitek Vanecek thwarts Coyotes as Capitals wrap up road trip with win

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

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

The Coyotes, losing nine straight, couldn’t get an offense to help goaltender Karel Vejmelka, who stopped 27 of Washington’s 28 shots.

“It’s not exactly the easiest game to play at the end of a road trip,” defenseman Justin Schultz said. “[Vanecek] made some great stops for us there at the end. We got both points, and at this time of year, that’s about all that matters.

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Washington went 3-1-1 on its highly successful road trip. The Capitals tied the game 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, that’s a good job from our guys,” Sheary said.

The Capitals’ next game is Sunday at home against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Heading into Friday, the Capitals hadn’t had much luck in Glendale, going 3-5-2 in their previous 10 games.

Forward TJ Oshie said Friday morning that mentally the game against the Coyotes carries more weight than a game against other top opponents in the league. It was a test of the team’s ability to play on any given night.

“It doesn’t matter who we play, it doesn’t matter if we’re high or low in the game, we have to play our game for 60 minutes and most of the time we’ll be successful with that,” Oshie said.

Vanecek, who entered the game with a 2.67 goals-against average this season, put in a strong performance heading into the playoffs. Washington still has a major goalie question ahead of the playoffs, with Capitals coach Peter Laviolette yet to name the team’s starter. Vanecek’s departure on Friday was his first since an 8-4 win over the Canadiens in Montreal last week. Ilya Samsonov has started three of Washington’s first four road trip games.

Against Arizona, Vanecek looked shaky early on, dropping a puck and hitting the far post early in the first quarter. However, he kept his form in the lackluster contest.

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“It’s one thing when you feel the puck all the time and you’re on a rhythm,” Laviolette said Friday night. “Not much is happening and all of a sudden you have to be amazing. So he did a really good job 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 Coyotes near misses and notched the second-highest total of his career. He scored 23 goals in the 2016-17 season with Pittsburgh.

Anthony Mantha nearly opened a 2-0 lead early in the second period, but he hit the post hard. The Capitals put the puck in the net again midway through the period, thanks to a strong line change from Nic Dowd, but officials ruled Garnet Hathaway played the puck with a high stick.

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

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

The Capitals played their final game at Gila River Arena in Glendale. The Coyotes will play at Arizona State University’s new 5,000-seat all-purpose 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 multi-purpose arena will be the temporary home of the Coyotes while they negotiate a new arena contract in Tempe.

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

Larsson returns to Arizona

Johan Larsson played his first game at 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 with Arizona before being traded to Washington. He arrived in the Capitals fresh off a lengthy rehab after sports hernia surgery.

In 10 games with Washington, Larsson has been a solid asset on the fourth line. He fits in perfectly both offensively and defensively with teammates Dowd and Hathaway. He replaced 1 against 1 Carl Hagelin, who is out indefinitely after undergoing eye surgery in early March. Larsson has four assists in his last six games.

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