Washington in Southeast Division lead after poor start
For so much of this lockout-shortened season, it looked as if the Capitals would miss out on the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in six years. There were injuries and inconsistency and all around frustrating play.
But just in time, Washington has found itself. Thursday was another huge step toward its goal with a 2-1 shootout victory over the New York Islanders at Verizon Center.
Defenseman Mike Green scored a goal with 13 seconds left in the first period, and goalie Braden Holtby made all three saves in the shootout to lift the Caps to the win. Islanders forward Kyle Okposo had scored with just 4:59 remaining in the contest to tie the game at 1-1. Alex Ovechkin had the lone shootout goal for either team with a sweet backhanded attempt.
Washington (18-17-2, 38 points) jumped from 11th place in the Eastern Conference all the way to third after taking over first place in the Southeast Division race. Winnipeg, which entered the day in first place, lost at Montreal on Thursday night. The Jets (18-19-2, 38 points) dropped their fifth in a row and have played two extra games. They have just nine left to play.
"It's been a tough season in that aspect, always looking up," Holtby said. "We all knew we're capable and where we should be -- and that's at the top."
It is the first time all season that the Caps, who lost their first three games of the year, have been in a playoff position. They still have seven of their final 11 games at home, including a key meeting with Winnipeg on April 23.
Green put Washington ahead late in the first period when he skated onto the ice on a line change and had the puck land on his stick in the high slot after a nice pass from Marcus Johansson. He drove unopposed toward the New York net and whistled a shot past goalie Evgeni Nabokov. Green now has six goals in his last seven games and eight on the season.
"I think [Green] is feeling pretty comfortable back there right now," teammate Troy Brouwer said. "Right now he's scoring goals and helping us win."
That lead held up for most of the night. But Nabokov (21 saves) made five fine stops in the second period alone to keep his team in it. New York actually had outshot Washington, though the Caps felt they had the better chances.
Holtby's shining moment was a pokecheck late in the second period on Islanders forward Frans Nielsen, who corralled the puck behind the net, wrapped around and found teammate Thomas Hickey in the slot. With Holtby (35 saves) down and scrambling to get back to his feet, Hickey fired a shot on net only to drill it into Holtby's pads.
"The guys will enjoy it for a little bit," Caps coach Adam Oates said. "But we've got a lot of hockey left. I think it's more important that we focus on this weekend because it could obviously drop just as fast."