USATSI_9923703_154158418_lowresWith a win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday, the Washington Capitals became the first team to clinch a playoff berth this season.

The Capitals built their 5-3 victory with a hat trick by T.J. Oshie and improved to a 46-17-8 record. They have a two-point lead on the Columbus Blue Jackets for first place in the Metropolitan Division and the league.

This is the third consecutive season Washington has reached the post-season and the ninth time in the last 10 seasons.

Last season, the Capitals snagged the Presidents’ Trophy.

Columbus inadvertently helped Washington clinch their playoff berth by losing to the New York Islanders on Saturday.

The Capitals are clicking on all cylinders right now and should be tough to beat in the post-season. Last season, they were eliminated in the second round by the Pittsburgh Penguins. This season, they’re hoping some roster additions and their general sense of team cohesion will propel them to the ultimate prize in sports.

Their play at home has been nothing short of astonishing, with a 28-6-2 record when the puck drops at the Verizon Center. Back on March 5, we discussed Washington’s 15-game win streak at home.

And now, the Capitals are still rolling. They’ve scored 228 goals for and have allowed just 159 goals against, amounting to a league-best plus-69 differential. The Blue Jackets are close with a plus-61 goal differential, while the Penguins have scored more goals overall with 245.

Nicklas Backstrom is still leading the team in points with 75 in 71 games, including 54 assists. Alex Ovechkin has 59 points in 71 games, while Evgeny Kuznetsov has 53 points. Oshie has 49 points and has been a willing recipient of the team’s offensive fortunes.

“I’ve been working pretty hard, but like you saw tonight, a lot of these are hats off to my linemates,” Oshie said on Saturday. “We’ve got a great team here. I’ve been fortunate enough to be at the end of the score sheet [on] a few things, but more importantly we’ve got our game back to where it needs to be.”

More than offence, it’s Washington’s surprising stinginess that has fuelled the surge.

Braden Holtby has been playing like a man possessed. He’s 36-11-6, with a .925 save percentage and a 2.05 goals against average. The 27-year-old has an amazing eight shutouts this season.

As we discussed earlier this month, Washington may have trouble keeping this roster together. That’s okay, especially if they’re able to pull off some magic this year. They’ve clinched the spot. Now it’s time to take the next step to Lord Stanley’s Cup.

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