Caps countdown Part Three

Caps countdown Part Three
April 30, 2013, 10:45 pm
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With the regular-season complete and the Stanley Cup Playoffs set to begin Tuesday (the Capitals face the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals), CSNWASHINGTON.com has counted down the Top-10 games of the Capitals’ regular-season in a three part series. Click here for Part One and here for Part Two.

Below is a look at Part Three, which features Games 1 and 2.

2. MARCH 22 2013: CAPITALS 6 – JETS 1

As the Capitals embarked on a season-long three-city, four-game road trip to Pittsburgh, Winnipeg and New York in late March, Alex Ovechkin said “we can end the season this week, or we can continue to fight for the playoffs.”

Two nights after opening the trip with a potentially deflating 2-1 loss to the Penguins (see No.6 on our countdown), the Capitals responded in the most admirable of ways with back-to-back wins against the Winnipeg Jets.

First came a 4-0 shutout in which the Capitals’ top-line of Marcus Johansson, Nicklas Backstrom and Ovechkin combined for three goals and seven points and Braden Holtby made 19 saves for his second shutout of the month in Winnipeg (Holtby turned aside all 35 shots in a 3-0 win March 2). 

One night later the Capitals were nearly perfect in a 6-1 win that saw Ovechkin score twice more, and Brooks Laich record his first goal of the season. 

“It was just like all of a sudden everyone decided to focus in,” Holtby said of the mood around the Capitals ahead of the two-game series in Winnipeg. 

“Usually I get about half-dressed [before a game],” Holtby explained in early April, “and I sit there and listen to the room and usually it’s jokes or people talking about stuff other than the game. But that game it was very quiet and the only things you heard were what we were doing that night to make sure that we won.”

The true impact of the two-game sweep was felt in the standings where the Capitals chipped away at a nine-point deficit for the division and pulled within five points of the first place Jets.

The Capitals’ two-game sweep was also the genesis of a rough patch for the Jets who lost 5-of-7 from March 21- April 4. Washington meanwhile went 14-2-1 over its next 17 games. 

1. MARCH 14, 2013:  CAPITALS 3 – HURRICANES 2

While an argument can be made that the Capitals’ two-game sweep in Winnipeg was the turning point of the season for both teams, the results may not have mattered nearly as much had the Capitals not earned two crucial points one week earlier against the Carolina Hurricanes.

When the Capitals and Hurricanes met at PNC Arena on March 14, the Hurricanes had won six-of-seven and were ten points clear of Washington for the Southeast Division lead. The Capitals meanwhile arrived in Raleigh, NC, on a three-game losing streak having been outscored 13-3 over that stretch (including a 4-0 loss to Carolina two nights earlier at Verizon Center).

The Hurricanes had a chance to bury the Capitals in the Southeast Division and appeared well on their way to doing just that as Alexander Semin and Patrick Dwyer gave Carolina an early 2-0 lead.

The Capitals rallied though with a second period goal from Joey Crabb (now in the American Hockey League) and third period tallies from Alex Ovechkin and Mike Ribeiro. Washington eventually won 3-2 in regulation.

“That game was a must-win for us,” Mathieu Perreault recently said. “We had to [come back from a 2-0 deficit] and since that day, we’ve been rolling, and our mindset is that we’re never done. We don’t put our heads down. We feel like it doesn’t matter [if we’re down], we can come back on anybody and that’s the mindset that you need to have at the end of the season and into the playoffs."

The Capitals, who were 20 minutes away from a fourth straight defeat and a season-high 12 point deficit in the Southeast Division instead finished the season on a 17-4-2 run. 

The Hurricanes meanwhile were never the same. The loss to the Capitals was the genesis of a season-high seven game losing streak and a stretch which saw them drop 14-of-15 and 17-of-19 overall to fall out of playoff contention.

To top it off, the March 14 win against Carolina just happened to be the night that coach Adam Oates was looking for a ‘spark’ and decided to reunite Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom on the No.1 line.

The duo has stayed together ever since, with Ovechkin recording 23 goals and 36 points in 23 games and Backstrom chipping in 22 assists and 27 points over that same stretch.