Nic Dowd and Nick Jensen were roommates at St. Cloud State in Minnesota, attending class and playing hockey for the Huskies. A few years later they'd be groomsmen at each other weddings, and a few years after that they'd find themselves on the same NHL team, poised to make their first trip to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
As fate would have it in Carolina on March 28, the duo combined on the goal that ultimately sent their new team to its fifth straight trip to the postseason. With the game tied at 2-2 late in the third period, Jensen threw a pass to Dowd as he hovered near the net, capitalizing on the quick feed for the score. They were too excited about the goal to realize the personal significance.
"To be honest, I didn't even [make the connection] until people started asking questions," Dowd said. "But I just think of the odds of that occurring and it's pretty cool. It feels normal to see him out there now. Just trying to help him anyway I can but he's acclimated already."
"Obviously there were a lot of important goals that led to that point," Jensen said. "But to have that one that tipped it over the edge and put us into the playoffs - that's pretty cool."
Much like their days in college, Dowd and Jensen's NHL careers have paralleled. Both took the scenic route to Washington. After splitting time between Vancouver and Los Angeles last year, Dowd signed with the Capitals in July and found stability in his fourth season.
Jensen, meanwhile, progressed in his third year with the Red Wings, then was dealt to the Capitals before the trade deadline in February. They've both found success in their latest stop.
With 22 points (8g, 14), Dowd's set a career-high in goals and tied his mark in points in seven fewer games. He's also come up clutch in big moments, as he followed up his playoff-clinching tally last week with the decisive goal in Thursday's 2-1 win over the Canadiens, a victory that ensured the Capitals fourth straight Metro Division crown.
"I feel like we've had a great year, and individually, I feel really comfortable here," Dowd said. "We're proving ourselves every night, and if you're a fourth-line player, it's your responsibility to make it difficult on the coaches and remain in the lineup. I've been in and out a little bit, but overall, individually, I think it's been a successful year."
As for Jensen, he's helped cut John Carlson's minutes over the last 19 games (from 25:18 to 24:18) and he's recently begun to add offensive numbers. With four assists in the last seven games, he's showcasing his skating and puck-moving ability from the backend while averaging 16:39 minutes on the ice.
And though Jensen's position isn't measured so much by points, he said the recent production has helped accelerate his growth in Washington.
"Getting those few games where I got a few points and helped out offensively, it's good for confidence," Jensen said. "And the more confidence you have, the better you play."
Now, Jensen and Dowd will have their first crack at the Stanley Cup playoffs, signaling how far they've come in their careers since their days at St. Cloud State.
"I've watched playoffs on TV, and it gives me the chills, just the games and how the fans are so into it," Jensen said. "I'm just excited to be out there on center stage, seeing what the environment is like. The games are so intense and fast and physical. It can be hard but that's the kind of hockey that's worth winning."
Added Dowd: "I've played in the American League Playoffs, which took two and a half months, and that was a grind. That's as close [a comparison I can make]. But I know the Stanley Cup playoffs will be an eye-opener and I'm excited to get into it."