Alex Ovechkin carried the Washington Capitals' postseason aspirations into the offensive zone Thursday.
He barreled toward Dan Ellis and paralyzed the goaltender with a stick fake, but didn't muster much on his shot as Washington's hopes caromed off the right post just past Ellis' outstretched left leg, slid down the length of the crease and eventually came to rest on top of the goal line.
Late in the third period, it was literally a matter of inches. If the puck didn't find its way completely over the goal line, then the Capitals' dwindling hopes to qualify for the postseason for the sixth consecutive year may have been dashed.
With their season hanging perilously in the balance, Mike Ribeiro was somehow able to nudge the puck over the line, negating Carolina's 4-0 win at Verizon Center Tuesday with a come-from-behind 3-2 victory at PNC Arena Thursday.
“I wasn’t sure, going to the bench," Ribeiro said of his goal. "It happened so quick. I actually missed my shot there but the video don’t lie. We’ll take that.”
At this point for the Capitals, beggars can't be choosers. A regulation loss would have put a 12-point chasm in between Carolina and Washington in the Southeast Division with 22 games remaining. Even an overtime loss would have left the Capitals with an equally daunting nine-point deficit to overcome.
And through 20 minutes, it looked like the former would have been the likeliest outcome.
Alexander Semin and Patrick Dwyer lifted the Hurricanes to a 2-0 lead within the first half of the first period. Considering that the Capitals had lost three straight in regulation entering Thursday's game and had allowed 10 unanswered goals since Sunday after Dwyer's tally, it would have easy for them to lose morale and head coach Adam Oates admitted as such.
"It shows character," Oates said. "Good for them. We got through that little wave. And you know, we stayed strong. We fought through it."
Even with the victory, Washington' playoff hopes are still tenuous. The Capitals still trail the Hurricanes by eight points in the division and trail the eighth-place Winnipeg Jets -- who they face in back-to-back games next week -- by seven points.
It may take the Capitals 13 of 14 wins in their final 22 games to qualify for the postseason, but if you ask them, they're already there.
"We're pretty much in the playoffs right now," Crabb said. "We're aware that every point's important right now and every game's important."
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