Before heading out on their three-game road trip through Original Six cities last week, the Caps had not won more than two straight games on the road at any point in the 2017-18 season. They were also coming off a rather ugly performance in their most recent road game, a 6-3 loss to the Flyers in Philadelphia on March 18.
Late Monday night, the Caps flew home from New York, the final stop of the trip. Tucked safely away in the cargo area of the plane were six points, the spoils of a clean sweep of the trip. Washington's 4-2 win over the Rangers in Manhattan on Monday enabled them to run the table on the trip, their first clean sweep of a road trip of three or more games in length since Jan. 5-9, 2016.
Video: Caps 365 | March 26
Monday's win also enables the Caps to return home with a five-point lead over second place Pittsburgh in the Metropolitan Division standings, with six games remaining for both clubs and one head-to-head meeting this Sunday in Pittsburgh. Down to the last dozen days of the 2017-18 regular season now, things are getting clearer for the Capitals in regards to their bid for a third straight Metropolitan Division title. If Washington wins any four of its remaining six games, it will clinch the Metro regardless of what any other team does over the same stretch.
No team sets out to win a division title as its goal, but the home ice advantage for the first two rounds of the playoffs could prove to be an important perk. Only one of the eight Metro teams currently owns more road wins than losses, and that's the New Jersey Devils, who are 20-14-5 on the road this season. Washington is 19-15-5 away from the District with two road games remaining, a set of back-to-backs at Pittsburgh and St. Louis, respectively, early next week.
"It's a real good trip for us," says Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen. "None of the teams are in the playoff picture, but it doesn't make it easy. I thought we had a professional trip and got the job done. We started slow and gradually got better, probably. We found some offense in the second two games. It will be nice to go home."
Video: Postgame Locker Room | March 26
Game-Winning Goals 101 - Alex Ovechkin scored his 45th goal of the season in the first period of Monday's game, scoring on a one-timer from his left dot office on a Washington power play. The goal also turned out to be the game-winner, the 101st game-winning goal of Ovechkin's career.
With that goal, Ovechkin ties Jarome Iginla for seventh place on the NHL's all-time list for game-winning goals. Jaromir Jagr owns the top spot on that list with 135 career game-winners.
Ovechkin's goal on Monday was also the 227th power-play goal of his NHL career, tops among all active NHLers and five behind former Capital Dino Ciccarelli for ninth place on the league's all-time list. Hall of Famer Dave Andreychuk is the all-time leader with 274 career power-play goals.
Video: WSH@NYR: Ovechkin pots his 45th goal of the season
According to Elias Sports Bureau, Ovechkin's nine seasons of 45 of more goals in his first 13 seasons in the league ties him with Hockey Hall of Famers Mike Bossy and Wayne Gretzky in that category.
Again according to Elias, Ovechkin's Monday night goal against the Blueshirts was the 30th of his NHL career against them, marking the 10th NHL team against which Ovechkin has scored 30 or more goals. The only other active NHL players who have scored at least 30 goals against more than two NHL teams are Sidney Crosby (six) and Patrick Marleau (four).
Video: WSH@NYR: Grubauer sprawls to deny McLeod with skate
Feeling Grubi - Philipp Grubauer was excellent again on Monday, earning his 14th win of the season to establish a single-season career high. He made 28 stops and his performance in goal was critical in the Caps' ability to hold the Rangers off late after Washington had roared to a 4-0 lead in the game after 20 minutes of play.
Since the All-Star break, Grubauer is 10-3-0 with two shutouts, a 2.11 GAA and a .930 save pct. in 17 appearances (13 starts). He has permitted two or fewer goals against in 14 of his last 20 starts, going 14-4-2 over that span.
Video: Ovechkin, Grubauer lead Capitals past Rangers, 4-2
Early Thunder - Washington scored four goals in the first period of Monday's game against the Rangers, the first time the Caps have scored four in the first frame of a game since Oct. 7 when they downed the Montreal Canadiens in their home opener at Capital One Arena.
Having scored three goals in the first period of their previous game, a 6-4 win over the Canadiens in Montreal on Saturday night, the Caps put together consecutive first periods with three or more goals for the first time in nearly a decade, since Nov. 10-12, 2008.
As it turns out, scoring three or more goals in the first period of consecutive road games is a much more rare occurrence in Caps history; it's been done just once previously, and more than three decades ago. The only other time in Washington's franchise history that it scored three or more goals in the first period of consecutive road games was Oct. 25-27, 1985. Remarkably, the Caps had to settle for a 7-7 tie in the first of those games, at Winnipeg on Oct. 25, 1985.
Video: WSH@NYR: Kuznetsov taps home SHG off the rush
Short Stuff - Evgeny Kuznetsov scored Washington's fourth goal of Monday's game, a shorthanded goal late in the first period. The goal was just the second shorthanded point of Kuznetsov's NHL career, and his first in just over four years.
Kuznetsov scored his first NHL goal in Washington against the Los Angeles Kings on March 25, 2014, and it went into the books as a shorthanded marker, his only previous shorthanded point. Kuznetsov's first NHL goal came while the Caps had a man in the box, but they also had their goalie pulled for an extra attacker, and Kuznetsov's first goal tied the game at 4-4, but Washington fell 5-4 in a shootout.
By The Numbers - Dmitry Orlov led the Caps with 24:39 in ice time … Ovechkin led the Capitals with eight shots on net and nine shot attempts … Brooks Orpik led the Caps with five hits … Lars Eller, Jakub Jerabek and Andre Burakovsky each blocked three shots in Monday's game to pace the Caps … Chandler Stephenson was a perfect 5-for-5 in the face-off circle … Eller won four of his five draws in the game (80%).