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Winnipeg had its chances, most notably an odd-man rush a minute later when Caps defenseman John Erskine threw his body in front of Bryan Little’s shot that would have gone into an empty net. Moments like those are how playoff berths are won.
“It’s a play that anybody would’ve done,” Erskine said. “I just happened to be in the right spot at the right time and kept the puck out.”
But Erskine had another one in him later in the first period, when a redirection by Winnipeg’s Aaron Gagnon rolled off Holtby’s back and onto the goal line. It required video review, but Erskine managed to swat the puck away before it completely crossed.
When Jason Chimera scored late in the first, his goal increased the Caps’ advantage over the Jets in the previous 10 periods to 15-1.
It took until after the first intermission for the Jets to push back, something they were never able to do in losses to the Caps at home last month. Evander Kane’s goal just 16 seconds into the period made for even tighter hockey in a game that already resembled the intensity of Game 1 of a playoff series.
“It was a hard-fought game,” Oates said. “The building was electric. … It kind of had a playoff atmosphere to it.”
The Jets had the disadvantage of playing this one 24 hours after their previous must-win game at the Buffalo Sabres. Noel said “there isn’t any” concern about back-to-back games, but Oates figured Winnipeg’s fatigue would show itself.
“A team is maybe a little sloppy because they’re a little tired,” he said.
Sloppy play was evident as the Jets frequently turned the puck over in their own zone and relied on Pavelec to keep them in it. Even when Blake Wheeler tied the score in the second, the Caps had an quick answer, as Nicklas Backstrom scored off an Alex Ovechkin feed 37 seconds later to reignite a crowd that had gone quiet.
Seconds after those fans serenaded Ovechkin with chants of “MVP,” third-liner Mathieu Perreault provided the insurance goal that was needed to ensure there will be playoff games in Washington next week.
“It’s not a big deal,” Holtby said. “To me, those things don’t matter. It’s the Stanley Cup that’s the only thing that matters. This is a step in the right direction. But we have a lot more work to do. And it starts now.”
Having another accomplishment to start on in April and early My would have been nothing but a dream not too long ago, but the Caps will gladly take it now that it has come true.
“We keep fighting, we keep battling, we stick to the system, we stick together,” Ovechkin said. “It was most important thing. Of course sometimes kind of situation when everybody was struggling and everybody was [ticked] off but we fight through it and right now you can see result.”
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