Washington Capitals Clinch Final Wildcard Spot in Game 82

Washington Capitals playoffs
Photo: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

April 16th was a contentious day in the Eastern Conference. The Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers, Detroit Red Wings, and Pittsburgh Penguins were all vying for the final wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. As the Capitals faced the Flyers, they were outshot 28-18, but a reliably strong performance from goaltender Charlie Lindgren and a season-high 32 blocked shots kept Philly from being able to take a lead over Washington. With a third-period empty-net goal from T.J. Oshie, the Washington Capitals effectively eliminated all three opposing teams and solidified their spot as, possibly, the most surprising team to make playoffs in the 2023-2024 season.

It seemed that the odds were stacked against the Capitals this season as they faced adversity time and time again. They went on six-game losing streaks twice throughout the season, ranking second-to-last at the All-Star Break. Nicklas Backstrom remained on LTIR for the entire season and star Captain Alex Ovechkin had eight goals in his first 43 games, leading fans to think his heyday was over. Tom Wilson was suspended for six games recently, and two different players entered the NHLPA Player Assistance program. They lost another Stanley Cup-winning veteran when they traded Evgeny Kuznetsov. The team was plagued with consistent injuries, and seemingly reliable goalie Darcy Kuemper had his worst season yet, ending with a .890 save percentage. The team enters the playoffs with a -37 goal differential, putting them in the history books as having the worst by any playoff team since the Hartford Whalers (-38) and Vancouver Canucks (-72) in the 1990-91 season.

Fans of the Capitals and the league as a whole had begun to count Washington out, believing there was no way the aging team could rally hard enough to reclaim their spot in the playoffs after missing them last season. Calling up younger players from Hershey seemed to be their saving grace. Alex Ovechkin found his groove again following the all-star break and has now scored his 853rd goal– just 41 short of Wayne Gretzky’s record. Rookie coach Spencer Carbery clearly made a difference both on and off the ice by believing in and utilizing his young talent and supporting and lifting up his team in post-game speeches. The culture of the Capitals has changed in a big way since former head coach Peter Laviolette left the team– the same head coach that Washington will be facing as they play the New York Rangers in round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Alex Ovechkin was visibly excited about entering playoffs, smirking and fist-bumping teammates as the clocked tick toward zero. He also spoke in post-game media about his excitement and belief in the team. “It was a tough year, tough season, injuries. You can see different guys from Hershey come up and they play unbelievable. We play hard. We’re gonna do something special this year. It’s only one step, so I hope we’re going to continue to play like that.”

The Capitals will likely begin their postseason push this weekend, but as of Wednesday, the game schedule has not been announced. Stay tuned to Inside the Rink for all things playoff-related.

We Got The Jack Inside The Rink

In episode 8 of the Inside The Rink podcast, Matty and Smitty are joined by new co-host Conrad Jack. After the long hiatus, we get back to hockey with a PACKED episode!Matt Rempe & the Devils vs. Rangers Line BrawlCould the Vancouver Canucks squander a playoff opportunity? Have the Winnipeg Jets finally figured out their lines?Flyers Head Coach John Tortorella is a sound byte MACHINEOvechkin is on his way to 895, Who is next?McDavid joins elite company with 100 Assists in a seasonRyan Hartman was suspended 3 Games, was it worth 3 games??Can Auston Matthews hit 70 Goals this season?The Eastern Conference Wild Card race is heating up, who lands the two playoff berths?For all of your hockey news and more from the show, visit us at insidetherink.com and watch us on YouTube! How to support us and our sponsors:TicketmasterColumbia Sports ApparelESPN+ SubscriptionFanaticsDraft Kings – CODE ITR
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