WASHINGTON -- It was a monumental climb, but the Washington Capitals won their fifth Southeast Division title in six years on Tuesday night with a harrowing 5-3 victory over the Winnipeg Jets in front of a sellout crowd at the Verizon Center.
Matt Hendricks, Jason Chimera, Nicklas Backstrom, Mathieu Perreault and Alex Ovechkin scored goals for the Capitals, who had to rely on their penalty killers and goaltender Braden Holtby down the stretch to preserve the one-goal victory.
The Capitals began the season by losing nine of their first 11 games but have gone 24-10-1 since then, including 10-1-0 down the stretch.
With 54 points, they are three ahead of the Jets with two games to play.
The Jets (24-20-3, 51 points) remain one point behind the eighth-place Ottawa Senators, but the Jets have just one game remaining and the Senators have three.
The Capitals built a 4-2 lead on second-period goals by Backstrom and Perreault, but the Jets mounted a furious comeback, pulling within one goal with 8:10 remaining in regulation when Nik Antropov ripped a wrist shot over Capitals goalie Bradey Holtby.
The Caps had to kill off a penalty to Perreault with 5:16 remaining, then finished off the Jets when Ovechkin found an empty net with 28.3 seconds to play.
The Capitals tried to run away with the game early on goals from two unlikely sources. Hendricks, a fourth-line center, opened the scoring 3:12 into the game on Washington's third shot. He fired from behind the goal line off the back of goalie Ondrej Pavelec's right shoulder and behind him for his fifth goal of the season.
The Jets appeared to tie the score with about four minutes remaining in the first period when an Aaron Gagnon deflection flipped in the air and rolled off the back of Holtby. With the puck bouncing precariously close to the goal line, Washington defenseman John Erskine swatted it out of danger and replays were too inconclusive to overturn the non-goal ruling on the ice.
Earlier in the period Erskine saved Holtby by sliding in his crease to stop a shot by Bryan Little.
The Capitals made it 2-0 with 2:07 remaining in the first period when Chimera netted his third goal of the season, taking a centering pass from Perreault and lifting his own rebound over Pavelec.
The Jets have made a habit of coming back in recent games and they wasted little time cutting into the two-goal deficit. Just 16 seconds into the second period, with Capitals winger Aaron Volpatti in the box for slashing, Evander Kane wristed a shot past Holtby for his 17th goal of the season.
When Blake Wheeler was left alone in the left circle, he hammered his 18th goal of the season past Holtby and the Jets' playoff hopes suddenly brightened.
That feeling didn't last long.
On a two-on-two rush with 5:12 remaining in the period, Ovechkin threaded a pass for Backstrom, who redirected the puck past Pavelec for his eighth goal of the season. The goal was placed under review to determine whether Backstrom kicked the puck into the net, but it was clear there was no kicking motion. Ovechkin was credited with the assist, drawing him within four points of NHL points leader Sidney Crosby.
With fans still chanting "MVP," the Capitals made it 4-2 less than three minutes later when Perreault dug out a Jack Hillen rebound and flipped it over Pavelec.
NOTES: Ovechkin became the ninth player in NHL history to score 30 or more goals in his first eight seasons, doing so in his first 45 games this year. The others -- Glenn Anderson, Mike Bossy, Mike Gartner, Wayne Gretzky, Dale Hawerchuk, Jari Kurri, Luc Robitaille and Bryan Trottier -- are all in the Hockey Hall of Fame. ... Pavelec started on consecutive nights for the seventh time this season. He was 2-4-0 with a 3.52 GAA and .880 save percentage in the second end of his previous back-to-back games. ... Tuesday night's game marked the final meeting between the teams as Southeast Division rivals. The Capitals will return to a division similar to the old Patrick Division, and the Jets will head to the Western Conference. Entering the game, Washington owned the lead in the series against the Jets/Atlanta Thrashers with a 41-25-5-7 record. ... The Jets close out the regular season Thursday night at home against the Montreal Canadiens. The Capitals finish with homes games against the Ottawa Senators on Thursday and the Boston Bruins on Saturday.