Barely clinging to their playoff lives just a week ago, the Washington Capitals embarked on their most important road trip of the season—and returned very much alive and in the thick of a very tight playoff race in the Eastern Conference.
At Pittsburgh, at Winnipeg, on back-to-back nights, and at Madison Square Garden—and all in six days no less—was a gauntlet run the likes of which the Caps had not seen before. To say it would be season-defining would have been an enormous understatement.
But when they absolutely, positively had to rise up to the challenge, the Capitals suddenly turned back into the Capitals.
Though they lost in Pittsburgh, 2-1, last Tuesday, the Caps played very well against their biggest rivals and a team that had humiliated them twice already this season. Losing to the Pens, who have now won 12 straight, is nothing at all to be ashamed of.
In fact, that loss actually seemed to give the Caps momentum. They went into Winnipeg—one of the toughest places in the NHL to play—and absolutely crushed the Jets on back-to-back nights, 4-0 and 6-1, respectively. The games were just as lopsided as the scores suggested.
For the record, in three games in Winnipeg this season, the Caps have throttled the Jets by a combined score of 13-1—and all in the month of March no less.
Then, on Sunday, the Caps went into Madison Square Garden to tangle with the New York Rangers, a team they must leapfrog in order to make the playoffs this season. For the third time this season, the Caps scored first against the Rangers, and for the third time this season, they could not hold the lead.
But, unlike the first two games, the Caps found a way to win on Sunday, besting the Blueshirts in a shootout.
The Caps' fortunes have changed radically in less than a week, and the playoffs are no longer a pipe dream. The team seems to be peaking at just the right time and teams in the Eastern Conference will have their hands full with this version of the Caps if they make the tournament.
Things have changed so much that the Caps actually bolted up 15 spots in this week's ESPN power rankings. Pretty impressive to say the least.
So what exactly did we learn from the Caps fantastic four-game road trip?
Here are four things.