The Washington Capitals left nothing to chance, beating the Winnipeg Jets 5-3 on Tuesday night to clinch a playoff berth and the Southeast Division.
In taking care of business against the second-place Jets, the Caps locked up the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and dealt a severe blow to Winnipeg’s playoff hopes. It’s Washington’s sixth straight trip to the playoffs and fifth Southeast title in that time.
“Obviously, it’s a good feeling,” center Nicklas Backstrom said. “That was our goal from the start of the season. Obviously, it’s been a little up and down, like a roller coaster, but I think we stuck together and worked as a team and now we’re in the playoffs, so that’s a good feeling.”
Anything short of a regulation or overtime victory would have forced the race to Thursday. But the Caps jumped out to a lead 3:12 in on Matt Hendricks’ goal and built it to two on Jason Chimera’s late in the first period.
Even when the Jets tied the score in the second on goals by Evander Kane and Blake Wheeler, the Caps responded. Just 37 seconds later, Alex Ovechkin found Backstrom streaking toward the net to restore the lead.
While fans at Verizon Center were chanting “MVP” to applaud Ovechkin’s efforts, Mathieu Perreault added an insurance goal that proved vital when Nik Antropov scored with 8:10 left in the third period.
A clutch penalty kill late in the third and Ovechkin’s empty-netter sealed it for the Caps, who finished an impressive in-season turnaround by celebrating around goaltender Braden Holtby.
“Just a great experience to be a part of it,” defenseman Steve Oleksy said. “And I think we’ve showed not just ourselves but I think we showed a lot of people throughout the league that we can play with anybody.”