- The Washington Times - Monday, March 28, 2016

The carpets in the Washington Capitals’ dressing room were dry. Voices, albeit giddy, were otherwise restrained. Even Justin Williams’ flowing hair, tousled that morning for the team photo, was matted down with sweat.

There were no raucous celebrations on Monday, once the Capitals defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets, 4-1, to clinch the Presidents’ Trophy. They will finish with the best record in the NHL, but they know other goals remain.

“There’s not going to be a champagne party or anything like that,” coach Barry Trotz said. “I think there’s a sense of fulfillment that we said we’re going to do some things, we accomplished them so far and we’ve still got some things to accomplish.”

It had seemed inevitable for months, with the Capitals (54-16-5, 113 points) long pushing the mark for the best start to a season in league history. They clinched a playoff appearance with nearly a month remaining, then cinched the best mark by dispatching Columbus with two weeks to play.

Consistency, and not a trophy, were the goal at the start of the season, and that focus only shifted once it began and the Capitals realized it was a possibility. They failed in their first attempt to capture the honor on Saturday, when they were shut out by the visiting St. Louis Blues, and it seemed dicey even through two periods on Monday.

Tom Wilson put the Capitals ahead with a goal 3:46 into the third period, swatting a rebound of Mike Richards’ shot past Sergei Bobrovsky and into the net for a 2-1 advantage. T.J. Oshie deflected one of Matt Niskanen’s point shots nearly 11 minutes later, and Nicklas Backstrom’s slice from the center line on an empty net provided the final nails.

“That’s a big goal, a really big goal,” Niskanen said, referring to Oshie’s tip-in. “Just under six minutes left, I believe, when we get that power play, and if they get momentum off that kill, there’s a little less than four minutes left and they’re coming — and we’re feeling it.”

Washington has seven games remaining, which, after losing four of eight entering Monday, will offer it a chance to work out its kinks. Among the priorities: Less-than-stellar starts, turnovers in the defensive zone and a juggernaut power play that has recently started to cool.

Then the playoffs begin, and perhaps the real celebration will follow.

“It’s a nice accomplishment, but we all know that we’re playing for something more,” Niskanen said. “I think we realize that, and this is one of our goals — to get to this point, and we’re in good position starting here in a couple of weeks.”

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