It was the 175th consecutive sell-out crowd at Verizon Center. Everyone in attendance was well aware of what was at stake; if the Washington Capitals knocked off the Winnipeg Jets in any way other than a shootout, the Southeast division crown would be theirs for the fifth time in the last sixth seasons.
After getting off to a 2-0 start, the Capitals let the Jets right back into the game. Blake Wheeler tied the game for Winnipeg a little more than halfway through the second period. Alexander Ovechkin wasn’t having any of it.
He came out his next shift and leveled Evander Kane, took a pass from John Erskine, and fed Nicklas Backstrom for a goal to make it 3-2 just 35 seconds after the Jets tied the game. Mathieu Perrault would add a goal minutes later, giving the Capitals a 4-2 lead after two periods of play.
It was the eighth time in the last nine games that the Capitals have registered two second period tallies.
Nik Antropov would cut the lead to one goal with a marker at the 8:10 mark of the third period, but that would be the last goal Winnipeg would score.
Ovechkin added his league-leading 31st goal on an empty netter with 29 seconds left, as the Capitals would clinch the No. 3 seed in the upcoming playoffs.
After one of the worst starts to his career, Ovechkin has completely rejuvenated himself and the entire Capitals team has followed his lead. Ovechkin has scored 22 goals in his last 21 games. His 53 points are just three behind Sydney Crosby for the league lead.
It’s safe to say that there is a solid chance Ovechkin can lock up the three prestigious trophies for a forward to achieve. He can snag the Richard Trophy, which is awarded to the top-goal scorer, the Hart Trophy, which is awarded to the team’s leagues most valuable player, and the Art Ross Trophy, which is awarded to the top point-getter in the NHL.
Only one player has achieved such a prestigious set of awards in one season. Can you guess who that might be? If you guessed Alexander Ovechkin, you were correct. In 2007-08, Ovechkin scored 65 goals and totaled 112 points, giving him all three trophies for the season. Granted the Richard Trophy was introduced in 1999, it is still an impressive thing to accomplish during a single season.
One could argue that if Sydney Crosby were healthy, there would be no chance Ovechkin could win the Hart or the Art Ross, but the situation is what it is, and Ovechkin is playing better hockey than anybody in the world right now.
While Ovechkin has been notably lighting up stat sheets and has been the topic of talk shows, guys like Backstrom, Mike Ribeiro, and Troy Brouwer have slipped under the radar. Backstrom has tallied 48 points, including 40 assists. Ribeiro has 47 points including 34 assists. Brouwer is second on the team in goals with 19 and has also contributed 13 assists.
Mike Green is second among NHL defenseman with 10 goals, only one behind PK Subban who has 11. It’s pretty impressive to say the least, considering Green has missed 13 games this year.
It’s no secret that the Capitals know how to be successful during the regular season. They are going to need to prove they can have similar success in the playoffs. With the division-clinching performance tonight, the Capitals will be heading to playoffs for the sixth straight year. They haven’t made it out of Game 7 of the Conference Semifinals.
They have a coach in Adam Oates who helped the New Jersey Devils sneak into the Stanley Cup last season.
We will find out soon enough who the Capitals’ road to the cup will go through first.
Matt Schreiber is the Florida Panthers Lead Writer for The Hockey Writers. He grew up just outside of Washington, DC before moving to Boca Raton, FL, where he currently resides. He also covers the NHL for Bleacher Report.