A 5-3 win over Tampa Bay sends Caps back to the play­offs

CAP­I­TALS 5, LIGHT­NING 3

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY IS­ABELLE KHURSHUDYAN

tampa — Be­fore the Washington Cap­i­tals faced the Tampa Bay Light­ning on Satur­day night, Barry Trotz boldly pro­claimed it an “ab­so­lute must-win game” for Washington. That was a cu­ri­ous state­ment from the coach of the league’s first-place team, but he was more than ready for the team’s late-sea­son slide to be put to bed.

In a game the Cap­i­tals treated like a play­off con­test, Washington of­fi­cially clinched its post­sea­son berth with a 5-3 win over the Light­ning. Be­cause the Colum­bus Blue Jack­ets beat the New York Is­lan­ders ear­lier in the day, Washington be­came the first NHL team to for­mally punch its ticket to the post­sea­son and reach the 100-point plateau at Amalie Arena.

With two first-pe­riod goals

an empty-net­ter late, T.J. Oshie scored a hat trick. Nick­las Back­strom had a four-as­sist per­for­mance.

“I think the way we ap­proach ev­ery game feels like a must-win,” Oshie said. “Through to core and the coaching staff and the rest of the guys, we’ve done a pretty good job of get­ting that win­ning feel­ing and a win­ning at­ti­tude in here, so ev­ery time we come to the rink, whether we just got off a lit­tle bit of a slump or whether we’re playing great hockey, we’re ex­pect­ing to win and it feels like a must-win.”

With the game tied at 2 en­ter­ing the third pe­riod, the Cap­i­tals pulled away from the Light­ning thanks to a pair of shots from de­fense­men. Tampa Bay’s Jonathan Drouin was called for in­ter­fer­ence a minute into the pe­riod, and just af­ter the Cap­i­tals’ power play ex­pired, for­ward An­dre Bu­rakovsky set up a one-timer for Matt Niska­nen that was tipped in by for­ward Justin Wil­liams in front.

John Carl­son’s goal, a base­ball swing at a bounc­ing puck, gave Washington a two-goal lead 5:30 into the pe­riod. With the Light­ning net empty in the game’s fi­nal min­utes, Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov scored his sec­ond goal to make it a one-goal deficit late, but Oshie’s third goal fol­lowed shortly af­ter and the Cap­i­tals held on for a win they very much needed.

“We were emo­tion­ally en­gaged, we were do­ing the right things and shoot­ing the puck,” Trotz said. “Got a good result.”

When asked why he con­sid­ered this a must-win for Washington, Trotz pointed to the team’s 4-5-1 record in the past 10 games and the fact that the once high-fly­ing of­fense has been in a slump. He said that was “not ac­cept­able.” Satur­day’s game was just the fourth time the team has scored more than two goals in the past 15 games, and it was the first time in that span the Cap­i­tals have tal­lied five goals.

To Trotz’s point, be­cause the top of the Metropoli­tan Di­vi­sion stand­ings are so con­gested, a loss to the Light­ning could have caused the Cap­i­tals to slide from first to third place in the di­vi­sion by the end of the week­end.

Satur­day’s game in Tampa also marked the first time the team fielded a com­pletely healthy lin­e­and up since the trade-dead­line ac­qui­si­tion of de­fense­man Kevin Shat­tenkirk. Bu­rakovsky, who missed the past 15 games, played for the first time since in­jur­ing his hand on Feb. 9. That com­plete lineup didn’t last long as Mar­cus Jo­hans­son skated just 2:53 be­fore miss­ing the rest of the game with a stom­ach ill­ness.

Bu­rakovsky had his first full­con­tact prac­tice with the team on Fri­day. His right hand still had a wrap around it, and he ad­mit­ted it still aches. But Bu­rakovsky was re­as­sured by a doc­tor that his hand couldn’t get any worse, and he said it didn’t hurt so bad when he was shoot­ing. On Satur­day night, his so­lu­tion seemed to be to shoot often, record­ing five shots on goal in the sec­ond pe­riod alone.

“I had so many good chances where I def­i­nitely should have scored,” Bu­rakovsky said. “I mean, I’m still a lit­tle bit rusty with my shoot­ing, but it’s go­ing to come back.”

While Trotz may have called this a must-win game for Washington, Tampa Bay had more at stake, just a point out of the sec­ond wild-card po­si­tion en­ter­ing the matchup. The des­per­a­tion to make the play­offs showed in the Light­ning’s re­sponse to the Cap­i­tals’ 2-0 lead thanks to Oshie’s first two goals. Kucherov cap­i­tal­ized on the power play, and 16 sec­onds later, Tampa Bay’s Alex Kil­lorn tied the game with an im­prob­a­ble shot while fall­ing down.

But by the time the game was over, hats rained down onto the ice for Oshie’s third goal of the game. His first came on the power play, and that es­tab­lished a new ca­reer high for him with 27 goals this sea­son. He extended that 11:52 into the game when he one-timed a slick feed from Alex Ovechkin on a two-on-one. Oshie’s 28th goal of the sea­son moved him into a tie with Ovechkin for the team lead. With his 29th, he moved into sole pos­ses­sion of that ti­tle.

“More im­por­tantly, we’re get­ting our game back to where we want it to be,” Oshie said. “It feels good.”

CHRIS O'MEARA/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

De­fense­man Dmitry Orlov and the Cap­i­tals re­sponded to Coach Barry Trotz’s pregame chal­lenge and be­came the first to reach 100 points.

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