WASHINGTON — The Capitals knew they were on the verge of reaching the playoffs, they just needed a complete game effort to clinch it.
Playing a full 60 minute game was something the team struggled with in recent days. With such a substantial lead in the standings, the Caps always seemed to start slow, needing a period or two to get themselves mentally into the action. That was not the case on Tuesday as the Caps clinched a playoff berth with a 2-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes.
"It was a really good start," Jay Beagle said. "We got it deep and we went after them and didn't wait for them to kind of see how the game was going to play out. We went after them and tried to dictate the pace and the game in our barn and that's the way we've got to play."
"We showed what we can do to start the game and set up our game," Braden Holtby said.
The Caps had given up the first goal in 13 of their last 15 games, but came into Tuesday's contest determined to flip the script. They dominated the first period of play and, though they went to the locker room still scoreless, it seemed like a matter of time before they finally struck first.
"I was fine with the first period," head coach Barry Trotz said. "We hit a couple crossbars and I thought we were playing the right way. Sometimes you're not going to find the back of the net, but I'll take that start most nights."
Despite hitting the post three times in the first period, there was no panic in the Caps' play, only patience. They knew if they continued to dominate, they would eventually get one past Carolina goalie Eddie Lack.
They were right.
Just 1:30 into the second period Justin Williams tipped a pass from Jason Chimera into the top corner of the net for the game's first goal.
Not only was it a relief for the team to finally score first, it was also vindication for Trotz who shuffled the lines prior to the game in the hopes of sparking the team out of its current slump.
Said Trotz, "Really what it is is trying to get people back focused on the right areas of getting back to our strong work ethic, getting to play the right way, getting a little more traffic, working teams down low and getting some movement from our defense."
One of the changes he made was moving Williams to the third line to play alongside Jason Chimera and Marcus Johansson.
"I thought Justin, he's played very well for us all year," Trotz said, "and I thought his experience in all that would be beneficial for Marcus and Chimmer who maybe were getting a little frustrated that things weren't happening on that California trip."
The assist snapped a nine-game pointless streak for Chimera.
Though Carolina responded with a goal of their own later in the period, Williams' tally would be all the Caps would need to clinch their spot in the postseason. As the game went into overtime tied at 1, Washington earned at least one point. An overtime winner from Alex Ovechkin was just icing on the cake.
The Caps are now the first team in the NHL to clinch a playoff spot this season and it took only 69 games to get there.
"It's certainly unexpected with this many games left," Williams said, "but it's a tribute to how we've played and we're proud of where we sit, but not proud enough to rest on our laurels."
With a postseason berth now theirs, it's on to the next goal for the Caps.
"When we came into training camp, we said we wanted to win our division," Trotz said. "That was where we started. Let's just win our division and go from there."
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