The Washington Capitals clinched their fourth consecutive trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in Tuesday's 5-4 shootout win over the Philadelphia Flyers, but it wasn't easy (even though it should have been). The Caps blew a 3-0 lead in the second period and trailed 4-3 late in the third period before Marcus Johansson tied the game and Alexander Semin played hero by winning it in the shootout. The high-flying Caps of old returned for one night, but so did the bad habits that have caused them many problems in the past.
There has been much made about the Capitals' switch from a high-octane offense, one that led the NHL in goals last season, to a more conservative, defensive style that sits at 20th with 2.69 goals per game this season. The win against the Flyers was Washington's 21st win of 2011 and the 13th by one goal. What was different about this win, however, was how the Caps earned it (or better yet, escaped with it). In previous games, the Caps would trail first, tie the game, eventually take the lead and clamp down defensively. Tuesday, the Caps took advantage of a shaky goaltender without their most prolific scorer, Alex Ovechkin, and held a 3-0 lead early in the second period. Yet, that lead wouldn't last as the Caps would play sloppy defense and the Flyers took advantage, scoring four unanswered goals.
Washington clinched a playoff spot with eight games left in the regular season. In those remaining eight games, the Caps need to figure out what team they want to be come playoff time. A performance like Tuesday, despite the win, will not help the Caps advance in the postseason as evidenced in years past.