As the Capitals left the ice following the second period Thursday night, Troy Brouwer glanced over his left shoulder and noticed the out-of-town scoreboard had the Winnipeg Jets leading the Florida Panthers by one goal.
Thanks to a power-play goal by Brouwer and an even-strength tally by Mike Green, the Caps also had a one-goal lead on the Carolina Hurricanes.
“We saw what the Winnipeg score was and knew that we needed to continue to play well,” Brouwer said. “We have to keep getting them to stay where they are in the standings.”
The best way to do that, of course, is to continue winning. Since taking over the Southeast Division lead on April 4, the Caps have won four straight but have had no more than a two-point lead on the Jets, who ran away from the Panthers with a 7-2 win.
The bigger picture is even more glowing.
The Caps are now 10-1-1 in their last 12 games and are 20-9-1 since starting the season 2-8-1.
But if there are any signs of complacency, the Jets are erasing them by staying on the Caps’ heels.
“We obviously know where we stand and how important it is to win every night,” Green said. “We can’t have a slip-up here at all. That’s the bottom line. We addressed that even during the game. We knew how important this game was.”
Capitals coach Adam Oates said he “kind of expected” a letdown after Tuesday night’s emotional win in Montreal and he got one.
The Caps looked harried in the opening 10 minutes, getting outshot 14-0 by the Hurricanes, who grabbed a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal by Jeff Skinner. Braden Holtby said he felt “out of control” and “erratic” in the opening 10 minutes but quickly recovered, making saves on Alex Semin and Chad LaRose to keep the Hurricanes from opening a big lead.
One of the biggest saves of the night came with 52 seconds remaining in the opening period when John Carlson swept away a shot by Jay Harrison that squirted through Holtby’s pads.
“When you see guys do that,” Holtby said, “you want to be there even more for them if they make a mistake.”
Holtby certainly was. He went on to make 43 saves to improve to 18-11-1.
“He saw a lot of rubber, close to 50 shots,” Matt Hendricks said. “It was a big night for him. He backboned us like usual.”
“The more shots he gets the better he is,” Green said, “and the bigger the game the better he plays. He’s been outstanding.”
The Caps turned the game around in the second period when Mike Ribeiro found Brouwer for a power-play goal and Green rifled a shot top left corner for his ninth goal of the season.
“As soon I lifted my head I saw that was open,” Green said. “It seems to be working lately, so I shot there.”
The Caps shut things down in the third period, with Brouwer closing it out with 5.4 seconds remaining with an empty-netter. Holtby said the Capitals’ poised comeback showed just how far they’ve come since that 2-8-1 start.
“I don’t think we would have come back the way we do now,” he said. “That’s the benefit of how much we’ve learned.”
With seven games remaining, however, the journey is not over.
"We've got to battle," Carlson said, "for our destiny."