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Caps clinch playoff berth, Ovechkin scores in OT to beat Hurricanes

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Caps clinch playoff berth, Ovechkin scores in OT to beat Hurricanes

How it happened: Alex Ovechkin snapped a five-game goalless drought as he scored his seventh game-winning goal of the season to finish off the Hurricanes in overtime. The Capitals' new line combinations appeared to do the trick, at least initially, as the team came out strong in the first period and tallied the game's first goal in the second. Carolina responded with a goal of their own in the second, however, and the two teams could not separate themselves in regulation. 

What it means: With the two points, the Caps have now officially earned a playoff berth, the first team to do so this season. The win also gives Braden Holtby 42 for the season, breaking the franchise record of 41 held by Olaf Kolzig and Holtby himself.

Starting strong: Slow starts have been an issue of late for the Caps, but it wasn't on Tuesday as they looked dominant in the first period. Washington held a 10-8 edge in shots on goal and hit the post a whopping three times in the first period, but they walked away with nothing to show for it as the period ended in a scoreless tie.

Enough talk: The Caps did finally strike first thanks to a Justin Williams goal in the second period. When asked about the team's slow starts after practice on Monday Williams said, "To be honest, I'm kind of sick of talking about it." Williams then acted on his words on Tuesday as he tipped a pass from Jason Chimera past Carolina goalie Eddie Lack. It was just the third time in 16 games that the Caps have scored the first goal.

Shuffling success: Going into the game Jay Beagle appeared out of place on the top line on paper, but nobody looked out of place in the new lines over the course of the game. Granted, one game is a small sample size and the longer these lines stick, the more those weaknesses will make their presence felt. For one game, however, the line shuffling appeared to have the desired affect. The team started better and each line contributed scoring opportunities. With his assist, Chimera also snapped a nine-game pointless streak.

What's next: The Caps return to practice on Thursday after an off day on Wednesday. They will next host Barry Trotz's former team, the Nashville Predators, on Friday. It will be the backend of a back-to-back for the Predators who host the New York Islanders on Thursday. CSN Mid-Atlantic will honor Craig Laughlin during the broadcast of that game for his 25 seasons of service as its Washington Capitals game analyst.

MORE CAPITALS: NHL Power Rankings: Getting back on track

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Nicklas Backstrom passes 600 career assists with a three-point night vs. Canucks

Nicklas Backstrom passes 600 career assists with a three-point night vs. Canucks

Nicklas Backstrom can so often be overlooked thanks to his superstar teammates. But on a night in which Alex Ovechkin scored two goals and four points and John Carlson had a goal and three points, Backstrom was the man of the hour on Monday in Vancouver.

With his three assists on the night, Backstrom tallied assists No. 599, 600 and 601 of his career. He is just the 87th player in the history of the NHL to reach the 600-assist mark.

“It means that I’ve been playing in this league a long time I think now,” Backstrom told NBC Sports Washington’s Alan May after the game. “It's a nice milestone, of course, but we’re not going to stop here. We’re just going to keep going.”

Very fittingly, Backstrom’s 600th assist came on a power play goal to Ovechkin. Per NHL Stats, 235 of Backstrom’s 601 assists have been to Ovechkin. T.J. Oshie comes in at a very, very distant second as Backstrom has set up the veteran winger 49 times.

Ovechkin and Backstrom’s careers will be forever linked given the success they have had together in Washington. While that has caused many to overlook the soft-spoken Swede, it is foolish to continue to underrate him and his ability.

Backstrom is an absolute superstar who just so happens to play on the same team as one of the best players in the world and one of the biggest personalities in the sport.

But make no mistake, Backstrom is an elite talent in his own right.

Backstrom is now the first player from the 2006 draft class to reach 600 assists. The next closest is Philadelphia Flyers forward Claude Giroux with 471.

The level of success Backstrom has managed to find while in the league has been surprising even to him.

“I wasn’t really sure what I expected out of myself,” he said. “I was just trying to enjoy it. Luckily this organization believed in me and played me a lot after a couple games there and then it just took off. It’s been going fast, but I’ve had so much fun.”

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3 reasons the Washington Capitals beat the Vancouver Canucks

3 reasons the Washington Capitals beat the Vancouver Canucks

The Capitals got their Canadian road trip off to a good start with a 5-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks. The stars came to play as Alex Ovechkin scored twice and added two assists while both John Carlson and Nicklas Backstrom recorded three point nights to lead Washington.

Here are three reasons why they won the game.

John Carlson

Carlson was easily the best player on the ice for either team. He has shown tremendous offensive instincts this season and that was on display in the first period when he snuck behind the defense to receive a pass from Jakub Vrana and chipped the puck past goalie Anders Nilsson. You don’t usually see a defenseman as the first player in on an offensive play, but Carlson saw a lane and he took it to put Washington up 1-0.

The Caps’ blue liner also added two assists on the power play. This was Carlson’s fifth multi-point game and it is only the Caps’ eighth game of the season.

You can read more on Carlson’s big night here.

Evgeny Kuznetsov from the office

The Caps scored a power play goal in the second period from the office, but the shot came from the right faceoff circle, not from Ovechkin’s spot on the left.

So much of Washington’s power play is built around setting up Ovechkin on the left and that gives players like Kuznetsov a lot more room than they normally would have.

Ovechkin had the puck at the top of his office, but the Canucks had his shooting lane covered. Instead of shooting, Ovechkin fed it back to Carlson at the point. The penalty killers did not want to get drawn away from Ovechkin and just leave him over for the return pass, but that left Kuznetsov wide open in the opposite faceoff circle. Carlson fed him the puck and he did his best Ovechkin impression with the one-time goal.

Kuznetsov now has five goals on the season and all five have come on the power play.

A broken stick

Trying to slow down the NHL’s top power play is hard enough. When one penalty killer loses a stick, however, it becomes that much more difficult

Already up 3-2, the Caps got a third period power play after Troy Stecher was caught for tripping Dmitrij Jaskin. While on the power play, a shot by Carlson broke the stick of Markus Granlund.

You may not realize just how small a player becomes when he loses his stick. Most importantly for a power play, it means the penalty killer cannot stay in front of the puck to block a shot while also covering a passing lane with his stick. With no stick for Granlund, that gave Ovechkin and Carlson plenty of room to exchange passes. Carlson only had to wait for Ovechkin to get into position before setting him up for the one-timer from the office.

Ovechkin’s second goal of the night extended the Caps’ lead to two and shut the door on any possible Canucks comeback.

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