The Washington Capitals didn’t clinch a playoff berth with a big win on Tuesday, but they moved another step closer to claiming their fourth consecutive division title.
A 4-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes gave the Caps some breathing room atop the Metropolitan Division as they moved three points ahead of the New York Islanders, who lost 4-0 to the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the idle Pittsburgh Penguins. All three teams have five games remaining now.
The Caps could have clinched a berth into the Stanley Cup Playoffs but needed the Florida Panthers and the Blue Jackets to lose in regulation.
That will have to wait, but the Caps are in prime position to officially defend the first championship in franchise history.
The big story coming into this one was, aside from the playoff implications, if Alex Ovechkin would end a four-game goalless drought. Not long ago, his 48 goals seemed like they would be enough to take the Rocket Richard title, but John Tavares‘ four-goal game on Monday put him within three of the misfiring Ovi.
Ovechkin got back on the train in this one, ripping a one-timer from the top of the slot to make it 2-1 in the third period. The goal would stand as the game-winner and put The Great 8 within one of his eighth 50-goal campaign.
When, not if, that happens, Ovechkin will join Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy as the only three players in the NHL’s 101-year history accomplish the feat at least eight times. Both Gretzky and Bossy did it nine times.
Ovechkin got the goal, but it was Evgeni Kuznetsov who really shined in this one.
The younger Russian had a hat trick of assists, including an incredible primary apple that set up T.J. Oshie for the game’s opening marker.
Kuznetsov assisted on Ovechkin’s goal while also providing the screen on it as he dashed through the slot and jumped over Ovi’s shot. He’d assist on John Carlson‘s 3-1 goal, too — which was Carlsson’s 400th career point.
Nicklas Backstrom provided the other marker, an empty netter where he looked back to see where Ovechkin was before driving the final dagger in.
Carolina came into the game with four wins in their past five games while sitting in the first wildcard in the East. That won’t change tonight, but with the Montreal Canadiens thrashing the Florida Panthers 5-1, they’ll only have a one-point lead on the spot with a game in hand.
Both teams will return to the ice against one another on Thursday.