Caps clinch Southeast Division with 5-3 win

Caps clinch Southeast Division with 5-3 win
April 23, 2013, 9:45 pm
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Instant analysis of the Capitals’ Southeast Division-clinching 5-3 win over the Winnipeg Jets in front of a raucous sellout crowd Tuesday night at Verizon Center:

How it happened: The Caps jumped out to a 2-0 lead on goals by fourth-line center Matt Hendricks and third-line left wing Jason Chimera to work the crowd into a lather. The Jets successfully took the air out of the building by getting a power-play goal by Evander Kane 16 seconds into the second period and tying it on a goal by Blake Wheeler with 5:49 to go. But the Caps seized control of the game – and the division – when Nicklas Backstrom and Mathieu Perreault scored 2:46 apart to give the Caps a 4-2 lead heading into the final period. The Jets made it interesting when Nik Antropov backed Jack Hillen off the blue line and ripped a wrister high over Braden Holtby’s right shoulder to make it 4-3 with 8:10 remaining. The Caps also had to kill off a late penalty to Perreault. But Alex Ovechkin finished off the Jets with an empty-netter with 28.3 seconds to play.

[CLICK HERE to see video of all five of Washington's goals from Tuesday night vs. Winnipeg]

What it means: The Caps needed to win in regulation or in overtime to clinch their fifth Southeast Division title in six years. The fact they did it with two games remaining in the regular season is astonishing considering they were nine points behind the Jets before sweeping them on March 21 and 22. The Caps can finish no higher than No. 3 in the Eastern Conference, which means they can rest any ailing bodies they may have in the next two games.

Who will they face: The Caps can face one of four teams battling for the No. 6 seed – the Maple Leafs, Islanders, Rangers or Senators – in the first round of the playoffs, where they will have home ice.

Save of the night: Actually there were two and both came from defenseman John Erskine in the first period. First he slid into Holtby’s crease to stop a Bryan Little shot. Then he swatted a bouncing puck off the goal line after Aaron Gagnon deflected a shot over Holtby.

Reaction of the night: Hendricks danced like the gopher in Caddy Shack after scoring the first goal of the game; and Jason Chimera couldn’t contain himself after netting his third goal of the season. But it was Mathieu’s Perreault’s flying leap into Chimera’s arms after Chimera’s goal that wins the award.

Crowd watching: Among those in attendance were NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, 1980 Olympic gold medalist Jim Craig and M.C. Hammer.

What’s next: The Caps are scheduled to practice at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday at Kettler. They return to action Thursday night against the Ottawa Senators, who are still fighting for a playoff spot.