The defending Stanley Cup champions have officially punched their tickets for the playoffs.
Nic Dowd‘s late third period goal on Thursday night lifted the Washington Capitals to a 3-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes –their second win over the Hurricanes in three days — sending them to the playoffs and getting them one step closer to another Metropolitan Division title.
While the win is significant for the Capitals, the big story out of this game might be what the result does to the Hurricanes as they now find themselves in what will be a three-team scramble to the finish for two wild card spots.
Their loss on Thursday, combined with the Columbus Blue Jackets’ big win over the Montreal Canadiens, means the Hurricanes now sit just one point ahead of both teams in the race for a Wild Card spot with five games remaining in the season.
There are definitely worse positions to be in, but they are not anywhere near as comfortable as they seemed to be earlier in the week after their big overtime win against the Canadiens.
Thursday’s loss also spoiled the Hurricanes’ plans for one final storm surge celebration as team captain Justin Williams announced earlier in the day that this game, regardless of the outcome, would be the final post-game Storm Surge celebration of the season.
There was no Storm Surge following the game.
This has been an exciting season for a young Hurricanes team that has taken a huge step forward and helped re-energize a fanbase that hadn’t had much reason to be optimistic over the past decade.
But how much will that matter if the team can’t finish the job and end what is currently the league’s longest playoff drought? They are still in a playoff position as of now, while three of their final five games are against teams currently outside of a playoff spot (two against the Philadelphia Flyers, one against the New Jersey Devils), but the pressure is almost certainly going to increase after Thursday’s results in the Eastern Conference.