Between the spring weather, the chance to clinch the Southeast Division for a final time, the nine-piece brass band pumping away on 7th and F, the undulating overflow of red jerseys outside the Verizon Center before puck drop (or were those just security lines?), it sure felt like a big game, and if you sat in your office today, looking airily and unproductively out the window, anticipatory nerves fluttering in your stomach, well, you weren't the only one. After a wild ride of a short season, the Washington Capitals came into tonight's game with a chance to punch their playoff ticket against the boys from Winnipeg.
And guess what? They succeeded, Alex Ovechkin's rifle into an empty net dotting the exclamation point on a huge 5-3 victory.
Ten more notes on the game:
- The stakes were high, and the Capitals responded early when Matt Hendricks put one up and over Ondrej Pavelec before the Jets had even put a puck near Braden Holtby. So, who had Matt Hendricks in the first-goal pool?
- The game would have been tied up shortly thereafter if not for the heroics of John Erskine, who slid in front of an open net and blocked a sure game-tying goal.That will go down only as a blocked shot on the stat sheet (and a two minute tripping penalty to boot), but in the early stages of a gargantuan game, it was way more than that. And if that tripping penalty was something you got your smallclothes in a twist about, Erskine saving a second goal by swiping a bouncing puck off the goalline was redemption aplenty.
- Evander Kane's goal sixteen seconds in the second period broke a streak of sixteen consecutive successful penalty kills for the good guys, and this one was tough to fault the PK unit for. Kane's got a nasty shot, for sure, but after Erskine bailed Braden Holtby out twice the period before, you'd like to see the goaltender return the favor for his defenseman on a decidedly stoppable shot. The goal was Kane's 10th against the Capitals, 2 more than he has against any other team. We won't miss you, Evander.
- John Erskine. Matt Hendricks. Jason Chimera. If these are the guys you had pegged as the first period heroes in the biggest game of the season, you're a filthy liar. But the big guns can't do it every night, and it's great to see contributions— regardless of how they show up on paper— throughout the lineup.
- People like to say that the two goal lead is the most dangerous lead in hockey. I hate people who say that. But a wide open Blake Wheeler made it a reality when, after a dominant shift by the Mathieu Perreault, Eric Fehr, Jason Chimera line on the other hand, he took a pass from Nic Antropov and potted it over Holtby's shoulder.
- There are a few guys on the Washington Capitals named Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom who didn't much like the way things were going at this point, so they turned around, and after Ovechkin turned Grant Clitsome inside out and threw the puck through the slot, off Backstrom's stick, and into the net, the hometown crowd had something to cheer for heading into the second intermission.
- What a game for Mathieu Perreault. Great play behind the net led to Chimera's tally and a 2-0 lead. Great play in front of the net led to a tally of his own and a 4-2 lead. The many excellent shifts in the offensive zone between these two moments contributed to a lopsided shot count and a whole lot of momentum. With a first and third line playing as well as they have, and a second line turning up the heat since the return of a healthy Martin Erat, the Caps' top nine forwards look pretty good. And that's without Brooks Laich or Joel Ward. Boy...
- Speaking of Perreault, his goal wouldn't have happened if Jack Hillen hadn't rifled a wrister high of Ondrej Pavelec to start the scrum. Hillen stays hot with three goals and five assists in his last eight games. Can't be mad at that. You probably can be mad, however, at his letting Nic Antropov march into the zone and fire one past both he and Braden Holtby to bring the game within one during the latter portions of the third.
- The Caps had only got 40 pucks on net once before tonight. Tonight, their first 33 came at even strength. If your Adam Oates, that's exactly what you want to see this time of year. If you're slouched in your couch, the amorphous flap of your gut creeping over the elastic waistband on your sweatpants, it's exactly what you want to see. If you're MC Hammer, sitting in the owner's box tonight, which forever reason he was, that's exactly what you want to see.
- In its fourteen years of existence, the Southeast Division has been won by the Capitals (7) more than twice as many times as by any other team. The next closest is Carolina, with 3 division banners. We'll remember you fondly, Southeast. Now, here's to hoping we can bring you a third Stanley Cup before letting the lid down on the casket for good.
It's been a rollercoaster ride of a season, that's for sure. At times tumultuous, at times remarkable. In a mere 46 games Adam Oates has ignited his captain and superstar, has turned a terrible powerplay into the most lethal unit in the league, has taken his squad from the bottom of the barrel to possessing home ice in the NHL playoffs, and has utterly reinforced the fanbase's faith in this team as a contender. Sit back and enjoy the games on Thursday and Saturday, folks, because the high-stress, throw-your-remote-through-the-television, yell-at-your-mom, piss-your-spouse-off brand, kick-your-cat of hockey is right around the corner.