When they left the District on the afternoon of Monday, March 27, the Capitals owned a three-point lead over both the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Pittsburgh Penguins for the Metropolitan Division lead. Two weeks remained in the regular season at that point, and the Caps still had a game remaining with the Blue Jackets. As they embarked upon a season-long five-game road trip that took them through four different time zones and across an international border, the Caps knew this could be a make or break trip in terms of their playoff positioning.
Today, they're back from that journey. And while the Metro Division title has not yet been clinched, the trip leans far more toward the "make" side of the ledger.
The Caps closed out the trip on Tuesday night in Toronto with an impressive 4-1 win over the Maple Leafs, a win that leaves Washington with a 4-1-0 mark to show for those five games in eight nights.
Video: Grubauer, Connolly shine in 4-1 win against Toronto
Most importantly, the Caps come home with a five-point bulge in the Metro standings with only three games to play. As they return home to host the New York Rangers on Wednesday in the Capitals' sixth game in nine nights, they need just a single point with which to clinch a second straight Metro title and the league's best record as well, also for the second season in succession.
And if the idea is to go into the playoffs on a bit of a roll and feeling good about your game as a whole, the Caps are also on track in that regard. They're now 9-1-1 in their last 11 games, with Tuesday's win being one of their more complete 60-minute efforts over that span.
And Then There Was One - Caps captain Alex Ovechkin picked up an assist on Kevin Shattenkirk's power-play goal in the second period of Tuesday's game, giving Ovechkin a total of 1,033 career points (558 goals, 475 assists) which is one more than former NHL great Alexander Mogilny.
In passing Mogilny, Ovechkin now ranks second all-time in scoring among Russian-born NHL players. He now trails only former Caps teammate and Hockey Hall of Famer Sergei Fedorov (1,179 points).
First One's A Winner - Shattenkirk's power-play goal was his first goal as a member of the Capitals, and it proved to be the game-winner. He now has a goal and a dozen assists for 13 points in 16 games since joining the Caps in a Feb. 27 trade with the St. Louis Blues.
Shattenkirk has already established single-season career bests in assists (43) and points (55) this season, and he is now two goals shy of matching his single-season best of 14 goals (set last season) with three games remaining.
Back In The Saddle - Caps defenseman John Carlson was a late scratch for Tuesday's game because of a lower body injury. That opened the door for Nate Schmidt to draw into the Washington lineup for the first time since March 14, and Schmidt proved more than up to the task.
Skating on the right side of a tandem with Karl Alzner, Schmidt skated 14:11 in the game, was a plus-3 and scored on his only shot on goal of the contest, in the third period.
Video: Coach Trotz talks after a 4-1 win in Toronto
"I was really happy with Nate," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "He got skated pretty hard [Tuesday] afternoon, and I thought he played really, really well. Obviously, the guys were excited for him scoring a goal. He is one of those ultimate teammates. When you make a deal to bring in a guy like Shattenkirk, Schmitty is an ultimate teammate. He sort of backed off of his spot, but you know he is going to be prepared and as you can see, it gives us some really good options going into the playoffs."
Carlson's injury is not a serious one, but he is unlikely to play on Wednesday when the Caps host the New York Rangers at Verizon Center.
"Nothing serious at all," says Trotz of Carlson. "Obviously, he took warm-up and he skated [Tuesday] morning. Where we are right now we just felt that let's not put anybody at risk and let everybody heal. I don't expect that he'll play [Wednesday against New York]."
Schmidt's goal on Tuesday was his second in as many games, and his third of the season, which is a single-season career best.
Homeboy - Caps right wing Tom Wilson netted his seventh goal of the season on a third-period breakaway in the game against the Leafs. It's the third time he has scored against the Leafs at Air Canada Centre.
Wilson hails from Toronto and trains and lives there in the summer. He has scored four of his 27 career goals against Vancouver, the most he has netted against any single opponent. But the Leafs are second on that list.
Eleven of Wilson's 27 career tallies have come against the league's seven Canadian clubs.
Taking What The Schedule Gives You - From early in the 2016-17 season, the Capitals have proven to be extremely methodical in taking down teams on short rest. Virtually every time they've faced a team that played the night before, they've made life fairly miserable for that team from the outset of the game. Tuesday's contest against the Leafs was no exception.
On the first shift of Tuesday's game, Ovechkin laid a hard hit on Leafs defenseman Nikita Zaitsev in the corner of the Toronto zone. Seconds later, the Caps had forced the Leafs to ice the puck, getting fresh personnel on the ice while the Leafs still had their starters out. All night long, it was more of the same as the younger and faster but more weary Leafs struggled to keep up with the Caps.
Video: Caps players talk after a 4-1 win in Toronto
"First and foremeost," says Shattenkirk, "we knew that [the Leafs] had played on a back-to-back. And we didn't try to break the game open early, we tried to establish our game and our physicality.
"And it started with that first shift. [Ovechkin] goes out there and lays a big hit. And that set the tone for us; it really sparked us, I think, and forced us to play the right way. We put pucks in the right positions, we were able to limit their transition game, which is where they're really dangerous. And in the [defensive] zone, we were strong around our net. They like to throw a lot of pucks to the net and try to win battles there, and we did a good job of negating that."
By The Numbers - Matt Niskanen led the Capitals with 23:34 in ice time … Shattenkirk, Dmitry Orlov and Nicklas Backstrom led the Caps with four shots on net each … Evgeny Kuznetsov led the Caps with six shot attempts … Ovechkin led the Caps with four hits … Brooks Orpik led Washington with four blocked shots … Lars Eller won eight of 12 draws (67%).