It sure took a while, but the Washington Capitals have finally climbed into the Eastern Conference playoff picture. After spending much of the year near the bottom of the standings, Washington jumped into the third spot after defeating the New York Islanders 2-1 on Thursday night.
The victory, coupled with a loss by the Southeast Division-leading Winnipeg Jets, now gives the Caps their first division lead of the year. Both teams are tied with 38 points, but Washington currently holds the tiebreaker.
Washington has been on a roll, winning six of its last eight contests and earning a point in seven of the last eight.
Thursday's tilt with the Islanders was a low-scoring affair that was eventually decided by a shootout. The Capitals had been winless against New York in two games this season.
Mike Green put Washington on the board first with a goal late in the first period. He was assisted by Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson. The goal was Green's eighth of the season and his sixth in eight games since returning from a groin injury.
The Islanders knotted the game in the third period on a strike from Kyle Okposo. Frans Nielsen and Josh Bailey got credited with assists.
After a scoreless overtime period, the game moved to a shootout. Washington star Alexander Ovechkin was the only player who found the back of the net, giving the Caps the important victory.
Washington goalie Braden Holtby shined in net, stopping 35 of 36 shots. The win was Holtby's 16th of the year.
With only 11 games remaining in the shortened season, this victory was very important. The Capitals have gotten hot at the perfect time and have now made an impressive push toward the playoffs.
Looking at the standings in the Eastern Conference, the New York Rangers hold the final playoff spot with 39 points, meaning the Capitals would actually still be out of the playoffs with just 38 points. That's why it's important for Washington to hang on to its division lead, as the division winners gain the top three seeds in the postseason.
The Caps will look to keep the momentum going on Saturday when they travel to Florida to take on the Panthers.