The Capitals rode the resurgence of Alex Ovechkin, the reemergence of Nicklas Backstrom and the stellar goaltending of Braden Holtby during their meteoric rise toward the top of the Eastern Conference standings.
But it wasn’t their names being called Tuesday when the stars of the game were announced after the Capitals’ Southeast Division-clinching 5-3 victory over the Jets. Instead, it was Matt Hendricks, Jason Chimera and John Erskine — three gritty complementary players (or “wagons,” as Hendricks refers to them), who led the Capitals into the postseason for the sixth-straight season.
“Yeah, the wagons out there,” Hendricks joked. “It’s getting to be that time of year where everybody’s got to chip in.”
In a playoff-like atmosphere Tuesday, the Capitals got contributions from everyone.
Hendricks, a mainstay on the fourth line, opened the scoring by banking a shot off the back of Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, his first goal in 25 games. Chimera then padded the lead with just his third goal in 45 games. Meanwhile, Erskine saved two goals in the first period with incredible defensive efforts, first with a sliding block and then by swiping a loose puck off the goal line as it trickled behind Holtby. Third liner Mathieu Perreault later restored Washington’s two-goal lead with his first goal in 17 games.
With the playoffs a week away, the Caps will need their role players to replicate those performances.
“They can be the difference makers,” defenseman Mike Green said. “I don’t think that’s what people understand. The deeper you are, the better off you’re going to be. Teams are obviously looking at the No. 1 lines to shut down, so it’s up to the third and fourth lines to do their job and pitch in. [Tuesday] was a prime example of a big game, and they pulled through.”