Every game has become the clichéd “must-win” for the Washington Capitals. Heading into Thursday night’s game against the Winnipeg Jets, the Capitals were seven points out of playoff contention, with the door to the postseason rapidly closing.
Winnipeg had been rolling, as much as Winnipeg could, over the last few weeks, and were closer to a playoff spot than Washington. But the Caps seized momentum from the start and cruised to a 4-0 win over the Jets.
Despite an early season loss to Winnipeg at home, the Capitals have had the Jets’ number during their last two meetings, shutting them out 3-0 at MTS Centre on March 2.
The win draws the Caps to five points outside the eighth and final playoff spot in the conference and seven points behind Winnipeg for the division lead.
Troy Brouwer scored the game’s first goal at 3:06 in the first period to put the Capitals ahead early. Brooks Laich earned a primary assist on Brouwer’s goal, marking his first point of the season.
The Capitals haven’t often thrived while playing with a lead, but it was clear Thursday night that they fed off the advantage.
At 16:22 of the first, Marcus Johansson scored his fourth goal of the season to give the Capitals a 2-0 advantage, a lead they would hold until captain Alex Ovechkin scored the insurance goal during a late power play in the third.
Late in the first period, tough guy Steven Oleksy dropped the gloves with James Wright, earning a fighting major and his ninth PIM of the season.
Nicklas Backstrom, who has been largely silent as far as goal scoring this season, slapped one home with just over a minute to spare in the third to make it 4-0.
The Jets seemed to rally a bit during the second period, but couldn’t get any pucks past Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby.
Holtby earned his fourth shutout of the season and his second at MTS Centre against the Jets, and Ovechkin had another multi-point evening, ending the night with three points, a goal and a pair of assists. Backstrom and Johansson ended the night with two points apiece. The Ovechkin, Backstrom and Johansson line pairing combined for a total of seven points.
This was also defenseman Mike Green’s first game back since re-injuring his groin a few weeks ago, and certainly wasn’t eased back into things, playing 23 minutes. He looked good, but maybe next game he’ll feel confident enough to join the rush and contribute to the offense a little bit more.