WINNIPEG -- The Washington Capitals came here this week simply hoping to save their season. They left having done that -- and much more.
The Capitals departed with a pair of wins against the Winnipeg Jets that pulled them within three points of a Stanley Cup Playoff spot in the crowded Eastern Conference standings.
Washington delivered a 6-1 thrashing at MTS Centre on Friday to take both ends of a rare two-day, two-game series.
Mike Green returned to the Washington blue line from injury, goaltender Braden Holtby further found his game, and the Capitals finally have a relatively healthy lineup for the first time this season.
"Good 48 hours for us," said Washington forward Brooks Laich, whose opening goal put the Capitals on their way Friday. "We looked at it like a big opportunity, a big challenge for our guys, and I thought we played really well."
Holtby and the Capitals knew the stakes heading into the two games, which started with a 4-0 shutout Thursday.
"I guess it was kind of a do-or-die for us, and we really realized it," Holtby said. "These two games, we understood how far out we would be if we lost them."
The Jets remain first in the Southeast Division with 34 points, but the second-place Carolina Hurricanes hold two games in hand and sit two points behind. The Capitals scooted past the Tampa Bay Lightning, Buffalo Sabres and New York Islanders into 10th place in the East, three points behind eighth-place Carolina.
The Jets had to view the game Friday as a chance to wipe away a poor performance. Now they will have to wait another two days for redemption when they meet Tampa Bay at home Sunday.
"Sunday’s too far," Jets center Olli Jokinen said. "We’ve got to get away from hockey a little bit and have a good day tomorrow."
The Capitals face another test Sunday when they visit Madison Square Garden to play the ninth-place New York Rangers, who also own a three-point edge on Washington.
"We have to be excited about our two wins," forward Troy Brouwer said. "They're very timely, very important, but at the same time we can't think it's going to be easy from now on. We go on to New York, play another tough team that is on the bubble right now trying to make the playoffs as well, so it's going to be a hard game. We just have to play like we did [Friday], not be too overconfident and just play good, solid hockey."
The Capitals ripped apart the Jets defense early, scoring four times on their first 10 shots. Washington’s second line of Laich, Brouwer and Mike Ribeiro continues to torment the Jets. Laich scored for the first time after making his season debut earlier this week, and Brouwer added a first-period goal that built a 2-0 lead.
The Capitals blew the game open early in the second period on goals from Jay Beagle and Alex Ovechkin in the first 7:35. Beagle’s goal ended starter Ondrej Pavelec’s evening, and Ovechkin greeted replacement Al Montoya with his team-leading 14th. Green piled on a goal early in the third period, and Ovechkin’s second closed the scoring with 4:02 remaining.
Holtby had 30 saves. Only a goal from Winnipeg’s Dustin Byfuglien halfway through the final period finally solved Holtby, who shut out the Jets on March 2 and held them scoreless for 190:37 over parts of four games.
Pavelec exited with six saves on nine shots; Montoya made 12 saves in relief.
"I think that we're getting in a groove," Holtby said. "You can feel it in the dressing room. Guys are getting confident, and guys are ready to make a push here. The attitude around our group is improving every day. You can tell before games that we're not as loose and joking around. You can tell guys are taking it really seriously and making sure we're prepared, and it's a good thing to see."
The two wins followed a solid effort Tuesday at the Pittsburgh Penguins, where the Capitals lost a tight 2-1 game that coach Adam Oates considered his club’s best of the season.
"It was nice to get rewarded here for a couple of nights," Oates said. "If we had won in Pittsburgh, it would have been a great trip so far. We're doing a lot of good things."
The Jets, who have lost three of four games, again struggled on the power play against a Washington club ranked 29th on the penalty kill. Winnipeg went 0-for-5 after starting the night 25th in the League. Its troubles on home ice also continue, with the Jets having won seven of their first 15 home dates.
"It's not like we didn't know these things were out there and potentially could happen," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "You knew that things like this could happen. It's a fine line between winning and losing. It's not like we didn't know that. We've just proven that."
Washington took a 1-0 lead by pouncing on Byfuglien's defensive-zone turnover. Ribeiro scurried with the puck out of the left corner toward the back of the net before zipping a pass to Laich, who pumped a left-dot shot past Pavelec’s glove at 12:10.
Washington knocked Pavelec out of the game 5:50 into the second period when Joel Ward outhustled Nik Antropov to a puck behind the Winnipeg net. Ward pushed a pass to Beagle, whose one-timer beat Pavelec from the bottom of the right circle. Ovechkin scored on the Capitals’ next shot, cranking a high blast that tore past Montoya.
Winnipeg meets Tampa Bay before embarking on a busy week featuring a pair of games against Carolina and a visit to Pittsburgh. The Jets do not plan to practice Saturday.
"The best thing that I hope our players can do is get away from hockey and go see a movie," Noel said. "Clear your head, because we've got a game Sunday. I don't think there is any need to beat yourself up over all of the stuff that either you're going to read, hear or whatever, because there's no way away from it. I think it's important that we clear ourselves up and play for Sunday."