As the Capitals enter the final week of the NHL regular season, it’s hard to believe they’re still relevant, considering where they were a month ago.
The Capitals entered a critical back-to-back set against the first-place Jets in Winnipeg on March 21 and 22 facing a nine-point deficit in the Southeast Division. Washington left that road trip with two wins over the Jets by a combined score of 10-1.
Now Washington can clinch the division for the fifth time in six seasons with a victory over the Jets tonight at Verizon Center.
According to several players, those two wins in Winnipeg were the spark that ignited Washington’s current hot streak. Including those games, the Capitals have won 13 of their past 16 games.
“We were playing well before then, but those two wins maybe showed us that we could play that same way and get results,” defenseman Jack Hillen said.
Forward Troy Brouwer said, “We knew the magnitude of that week. That was our season. At that point, we were quite a ways out of the playoffs and we needed to find a way back in and came up with a great effort.”
The Caps and Jets are two of the five eligible teams in the Eastern Conference — the Senators, Islanders and Rangers are the other three — battling for four remaining playoff spots. The winner of the Southeast Division will automatically clinch the third seed, while the loser will have to contend with a congested bottom half where four points separate sixth and ninth entering Monday.
To put it simply, there is a lot riding on the outcome of tonight’s game.
“It’s their season, it’s our season,” Hillen said. “It’s a playoff game [tonight]. I think it’s going to be one of those games you relish as a player.”