NHL: Caps beat Jets to win Southeast
Washington was 2nd from last in Eastern Conference last month.
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Washington • Surely, if the Washington Capitals were going to make the playoffs, it would come down to the wire. Their start was so terrible that even an optimistic die-hard would figure that, with the right breaks, perhaps they could steal a berth in the final game of the regular season.

Yet here they are, postseason-bound with two games to spare, quite the achievement for Alex Ovechkin and first-year coach Adam Oates. Tuesday night's 5-3 win over the Winnipeg Jets clinched the Southeast Division for the Capitals, who were next-to-last in the Eastern Conference as recently as March 21.

"I remember 20 games ago looking at the schedule," said Mathieu Perreault, one of five Capitals to score a goal Tuesday. "Like, 'Man, we're probably going to have to go 16-4 to get in' — and basically did it. It almost looked impossible if you look back 20 games, but this team has got so much character, and they found a way to do it."

If the Capitals win their final two, they will indeed finish with 16 wins in 20 games, but that would be gravy at this point. They're in the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season, a run that includes five Southeast titles. As a bonus, they will leapfrog several teams with better records and enter the playoffs as the conference's No. 3 seed for winning their division, even if it is the weakest division in the NHL.

"We had a lousy start," Oates said. "And I don't think many of us thought we would come this far. But we obviously put some really good hockey together, and the guys have grown and it's obviously a good feeling right now."

The Capitals blew a two-goal lead, survived a pair of replay reviews and exhaled deeply when defensemen John Erskine cleared two shots off the goal line. They also had to kill off a power play with a one-goal lead late in the game, but they held to win for the 10th time in 11 games.

The loss keeps the Jets in ninth place in the East, one spot away from the playoffs but with slim chances of moving up because they have only one game remaining. They trail the New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators by one point, but the Rangers have two games left and the Senators have three. EASTERN CONFERENCE

GP W L OT Pts GF GA

z-Pittsburgh 46 35 11 0 70 155 113

x-Boston 45 27 13 5 59 125 102

y-Washington 46 26 18 2 54 145 126

x-Montreal 46 27 14 5 59 141 123

x-Toronto 45 25 15 5 55 138 124

x-N.Y. Islanders 46 24 16 6 54 137 135

Ottawa 45 23 16 6 52 109 99

N.Y. Rangers 46 24 18 4 52 122 109

Winnipeg 47 24 20 3 51 126 140

New Jersey 46 18 18 10 46 109 123

Buffalo 47 20 21 6 46 123 142

Philadelphia 46 21 22 3 45 129 139

Carolina 46 19 24 3 41 122 148

Tampa Bay 45 17 24 4 38 140 141

Florida 46 14 26 6 34 107 164

WESTERN CONFERENCE

GP W L OT Pts GF GA

z-Chicago 45 34 6 5 73 147 97

y-Anaheim 46 29 11 6 64 134 112

y-Vancouver 46 26 13 7 59 124 111

x-Los Angeles 46 26 15 5 57 129 113

x-San Jose 46 25 14 7 57 121 111

x-St. Louis 46 27 17 2 56 122 113

Minnesota 46 25 18 3 53 118 120

Columbus 46 22 17 7 51 114 117

Detroit 45 21 16 8 50 113 112

Dallas 46 22 20 4 48 129 136

Phoenix 45 19 18 8 46 114 122

Calgary 46 19 23 4 42 126 153

Edmonton 45 17 21 7 41 111 127

Nashville 46 16 21 9 41 108 131

Colorado 46 15 24 7 37 110 145

d-division leader

x-clinched playoff spot

y-clinched division

z-clinched conference

Tuesday's games

Carolina 4, N.Y. Islanders 3, SO

New Jersey 3, Montreal 2

Washington 5, Winnipeg 3

Philadelphia 5, Boston 2

Florida 3, N.Y. Rangers 2

Buffalo 4, Pittsburgh 2

St. Louis 3, Colorado 1

Nashville 4, Calgary 3

Minnesota 2, Los Angeles 1

San Jose 3, Dallas 2

Wednesday's games

Toronto at Tampa Bay, 5 p.m.

Los Angeles at Detroit, 5:30 p.m.

Chicago at Edmonton, 7:30 p.m.

San Jose at Phoenix, 8 p.m.