The Capitals are going to the playoffs. (Examiner)
The Washington Capitals pulled off the almost impossible on Tuesday night inside Verizon Center, defeating the Winnipeg Jets 5-3 to complete a miraculous turnaround and clinch the Southeast Division and a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Getting goals from Matt Hendricks, Jason Chimera, Mathieu Perreault, Nicklas Backstrom, and then an empty-netter from Alex Ovechkin, the team fought off constant Jets advances and found a way to get the job done, just like they have for the last six weeks. As mentioned, the win means that the Caps are locked in to the playoffs and the third seed in the Conference by virtue of winning their Division. I repeat: the Capitals are going to the Stanley Cup Playoffs!
The Capitals sure made this one interesting. After a dominant first period that saw them jump out to a two-goal lead, the Jets, desperate, clawed back to tie it and had the Capitals on their heels. Two goals from Washington would restore their cushion, but another Winnipeg goal and then a late power play for the visiting side made things very nerve-racking as the clock wound down. You don’t like to see this big of a game have the two big lapses that the Capitals had in this game, but in the end the win is all that matters.
Despite the exclamation point that was put on the game late by Ovechkin, this game was really about the guys on the lower lines. Hendricks’ goal was massive, as was Chimera’s, and both of the lower lines were buzzing all might and were probably the reason that the Caps were able to sustain their pressure despite some rough patches in the middle there. Though Washington’s scorers have gotten basically all the attention over this hot run, and deservedly so, it’s the players like Chimera, Hendricks, and Perreault who can keep the game moving in your team’s favor and deserve a ton of credit. Not consistently, no – but enough to have an impact.
Mathieu Perreault has come under fire regularly over his career in Washington for his inability to do certain things, most notably hold down a spot in the lineup and compete physically on a regular basis. But Perreault has done both of those things well this season, and he created one of the Capitals’ goals on Tuesday and converted another by doing things perhaps an older version of Perreault would not – he worked hard on the boards to win the puck and then finished in the dirty areas. Perry is having a great season even when he doesn’t show up on the score sheet and his line is playing remarkably well with – dare I say it – him as the engine.
Mike Green had another great game for this Capitals team as he continues a renaissance season alongside seemingly all of his offensively powerful teammates. Green’s name didn’t appear on the scoresheet, but he made some great passes to break out of the zone at evens, was physical all around the ice, and even stuck up for his teammates and goaltender in front of the net, which, if you believe some people, he “never” does. Green has come on very strong in the last month and a half since returning from his injury, and though it seems like I write this a lot, I’ll keep doing it: Mike Green is good, and the Capitals are better when he is in the lineup at his best. The proof is in the pudding.
If you were to tell me on, say, Valentine’s Day that the Capitals were capable of making the playoffs, I would have been skeptical. Hell, there was a point where the Caps’ statistical odds of making the playoffs were a mere 2.3%. But they stuck to their system, got execution from their best players, great goaltending, and adapted to their new coach and his system on the fly well enough to make the playoffs for the sixth year in a row, a remarkable feat in any sport but especially one with so much parity as the NHL. If you were to say you saw this coming, you’re a liar. Because though in the back of my mind I always felt (and wrote) that the Capitals could be a playoff team, absolutely nobody saw this coming. How or why it is coming like this is hard to explain. But it’s encouraging to see the team know that this is not the goal. The Stanley Cup is the goal. Everyone knows that this is not what really matters. Now, they have to go out and prove that they deserve what they want.
Harry Hawkings is a college student credentialed to cover the Capitals for RtR. Follow him on Twitter here for all your news needs this season.