WASHINGTON (AP) — Dougie Hamilton tied it in the third period, Luke Hughes scored his first NHL goal in overtime and the New Jersey Devils rallied to beat the Washington Capitals 5-4 Thursday night in their regular-season finale.
New Jersey erased a three-goal deficit, climbing back into it thanks to two from Erik Haula and one on the power play from Miles Wood. But Carolina’s victory at Florida locked the Devils into the second seed in the Metropolitan Division and set up a first-round matchup against the rival New York Rangers.
It’s the first time the Devils and Rangers have met in the playoffs since the 2012 Eastern Conference final. The three New York-area teams are in the NHL playoffs for the first time since 2007.
Aiming for first place in Game 82 took a back seat to being as healthy as possible for Game 1 of the playoffs Monday or Tuesday. New Jersey opted to rest top goaltender Vitek Vanecek, veteran forward Ondrej Palat and defensemen Ryan Graves and John Marino.
Starting in place of Vanecek, Mackenzie Blackwood was pulled after giving up four goals on 11 shots. Blackwood allowed goals to Joe Snively, Rasmus Sandin and Craig Smith on the first five shots he faced in 10-plus minutes and got the hook when Tom Wilson scored 1:05 into the second period.
Akira Schmid, recalled from the minors to back up, stopped all 20 shots he faced in relief to give the Devils a chance to come back for their second straight victory.
At the other end of the ice, Darcy Kuemper made a handful of big saves among his 29 before allowing two goals in the third period and Hughes’ goal with 26.4 seconds left in 3-on-3 OT. New Jersey’s top prospect, Hughes was playing in just his second pro game after playing his final season at the University of Michigan.
Despite Washington having nothing to play for, captain Alex Ovechkin returned after missing the past three games with an undisclosed injury.
The Capitals missed the playoffs for the first time since 2013-14, ending a streak of eight consecutive appearances that was tied with Nashville for the second-longest in the league. Pittsburgh’s run of 16 in a row also ended.
Devils: Open the playoffs next week against the Rangers.
Capitals: Face an uncertain offseason that could include a coaching change.
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Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press