Capitals control destiny

ARLINGTON, Va. -- The Washington Capitals’ path to a Stanley Cup Playoff berth in their final two regular-season games is simple but not without challenges.

If Washington (38-31-11) wins at home against the Boston Bruins on Monday (7 p.m. ET; MNMT, NHLN, NESN) and at the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday, it will qualify for the playoffs, regardless of what the teams they are battling do.

The Capitals are tied with the Detroit Red Wings and Flyers for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference, one point ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins. But Philadelphia has played one more game, and Washington owns the tiebreaker over Detroit (30 regulation wins versus 27), so it controls its postseason destiny if it wins its remaining games.

“It’s exciting to be in this position,” Capitals forward T.J. Oshie said Monday. “There’s obviously been points in the season where it looked like it was going to be a very uphill climb to get to this spot. It’s in our own hands, so it’s a playoff feel, kind of Game 7-type, lose go home, win and continue. So, it’s a big challenge, but one you definitely want to be a part of. We’re excited to get going tonight.”

Defeating the Bruins (47-18-15), who can clinch first in the Atlantic Division with a win, and the Flyers on consecutive nights could be a daunting task, however, with an injury-depleted defense missing Nick Jensen and Rasmus Sandin.

Jensen, who is third on the Capitals in averaging 19:38 of ice time, is recovering after being taken off the ice on stretcher in the first period of a 4-2 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday and won’t be available for either game. He was injured when he was hit hard into the boards at center ice by Tampa Bay forward Michael Eyssimont.

Sandin, who is second on the Capitals in average ice time (21:07), resumed skating Monday but also is out for at least the remainder of the regular season after being injured on a hit from Parker Kelly at the end of the first period in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators on April 7.

“We’re obviously missing them a lot,” said Capitals defenseman Martin Fehervary, who played an NHL career-high 27:06 on Saturday. “They play a lot of minutes and they’re such great players, but I think whoever is stepping into the lineup knows what the deal is.

“We just need to play together, help each other and make it together.”

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Jensen’s and Sandin’s injuries, combined with the departure of Joel Edmundson in a trade to the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 7 and Ethan Bear entering the NHL and NHL Players' Association Player Assistance Program on March 27, has stretched Washington’s defensive depth. Rookie Vincent Iorio, who was called up from Hershey of the American Hockey League on March 27, has filled in the past three games for Sandin. Dylan McIlrath, who was recalled from Hershey on Sunday, will take Jensen’s spot against the Bruins.

“It's going to be opportunity for other players to step up and then also not putting that on one person's shoulders,” Capitals coach Spencer Carbery said. “The group – [defense] corps, forwards -- doing a little bit more to help alleviate the absence of [Jensen], whether it's a penalty kill standpoint or just a 5-on-5.”

Washington has overcome a lot already to get this far. The last month-plus in particular has been a roller coaster.

The Capitals won six of seven games from March 14-26, including a 4-3 overtime victory against the Red Wings on March 26, to move two points ahead of Detroit for the second wild card, but then lost six in a row (0-4-2) from March 28-April 7 to fall out of a playoff spot.

A 2-1 win at Detroit on Tuesday put Washington back in the second wild card for two days before dropping back out with 4-2 loss at the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday. The Capitals rebounded to retake the second wild card again with their win against the Lightning coupled with the Penguins’ 6-4 loss to the Bruins on Saturday.

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They’ve tried to stay even-keeled through it all.

“This is fun,” Oshie said. “There’s zero nerves. I guess in your driveway when you’re a kid, you’re not dreaming about just trying to stay alive and win games to make the playoffs. You’re winning Game 7s, but this tonight is like a Game 7 for us. So, these moments are what you dream about as a kid, and no point in shying away from it.”

After missing the playoffs last season for the first time since 2014, the Capitals entered this season determined to get back to the postseason. Now, they’re in position to do that with two more wins.

“I think the fact that we can control our own destiny, we should look at that as something we should take advantage of,” goalie Charlie Lindgren said. “It obviously starts with one tonight against a really good Boston team and go from there. … I’m pretty sure it’s a must-win tomorrow (against the Flyers) no matter what, but we obviously have to start with today.

“It’s a very important game and we know if we win both, we’re in.”