The Washington Capitals wrapped up the Southeast Division championship on Tuesday night, but they didn’t eliminate the Winnipeg Jets from the playoffs.
Alex Ovechkin’s 31st goal of the year was the insurance tally at 19:31 of the third period — into an empty net — as the Capitals beat the Jets 5-3 at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.
The Jets played an inspired game in D.C. despite the fact they played without the injured Toby Enstrom, Kyle Wellwood, Zach Bogosian, Olli Jokinen and Jim Slater. They fell behind 2-0 after the first period on goals by Matt Hendricks and Jason Chimera and then tied it up at 2-2 in the second as Evander Kane scored at the 16-second mark of the second period and Blake Wheeler scored at 14:11.
But 37 seconds after Wheeler’s goal, Nicklas Backstrom deflected home a pass from Ovechkin and Washington had a 3-2 advantage.
Washington’s Mathieu Perrault scored at 17:34 of the second period and that gave Washington a 4-2 lead heading into the third.
After the Caps dominated the early going of the third — Troy Brouwer alone was foiled by Ondrej Pavelec on a breakaway, was beaten again on a brilliant save by Pavelec and hit a post — but Nik Antropov fired a shot under the crossbar at 11:50 of the third to give the Jets a life.
But Ovechkin scored the empty netter with 29 seconds to play and the Caps improved to 26-18-2. With 54 points, the Caps wrapped up first place in the division.
However, the Caps didn’t eliminate the Jets from the playoffs as Winnipeg finally got some help. Florida beat the New York Rangers 3-2 on Tuesday night so that leaves the Jets one point back of the Rangers. However, New York has two games remaining while the Jets have only one. Ottawa also has 52 points with two games remaining.
“They played better than us, they scored, they put more pucks to the net than us, they made more plays, they had more speed,” said an angry and disappointed Jets head coach Claude Noel in the post-game scrum. “And we let it get away. The shift after we made it 2-2, they scored and that was a situation you can’t have. You can’t allow that to happen.”
Washington outshot Winnipeg 41-27. Winnipeg was one-for-three on the power play while Washington was 0-for-one. Antropov led the Jets with a goal and an assist. Kane had a goal but was still a minus-two on the game.
Ovechkin, Chimera, Perrault and Backstrom each had a goal and an assist for the Caps. Eric Fehr didn’t make the scoresheet but was a plus-two on the evening.
“The cards are not in our hands,”Noel conceded. “We have to get above the line in the Montreal game. We have to be in the playoffs after the Montreal game because the season still has a few days. If we aren’t in the Top 8 after the Montreal game it isn’t going to happen for us. We have to win. It’s that simple.”
Noel was extremely unhappy with the questions asked by the media and cut the post-game scrum short.
The Jets play again on Thursday night. Winnipeg will finish its season at MTS Centre against the Montreal Canadiens at 7 p.m. If you don’t have a ticket, the game can be seen on TSN Jets TV.