WASHINGTON -- The Ottawa Senators took longer than any of their fans had hoped, but they finally clinched a berth in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Veteran defenseman Sergei Gonchar blasted a slap shot high over goaltender Michal Neuvirth's right shoulder 47 seconds into overtime on Thursday night, giving the Senators a 2-1 win over the Capitals at the Verizon Center.
The win lifted the Senators (24-16-6) into the playoffs for the second straight spring.
It also vaulted them into a virtual tie with the New YOrk Rangers and New York Islanders, who also have 54 points. But because the Senators have two games remaining and the Rangers and Isles each have one, the Senators have moved into the sixth spot in the standings.
If they remain there, the Senators would face the Capitals in the first round of the playoffs, beginning next week in Washington.
The Capitals clinched a playoff spot for the sixth straight season on Tuesday night. They are 0-2-1 against the Senators this season and have scored just four goals in the three losses.
For much of the game, it looked as though Craig Anderson might be on his way to his fourth shutout of the season.
But with 8:31 gone in the third period, Alex Ovechkin tied the score with his league-leading 32nd goal of the season and first against the Senators.
Ovechkin entered the zone with a head of steam, caught a pass from Marcus Johansson in full stride, blew past Ottawa defenseman Chris Phillips and tucked a backhander past Anderson for his 23rd goal in 22 games.
The Senators received a boost of confidence with the return of defending Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson, who missed the previous 31 games with a torn Achilles' tendon.
It didn't take long for the 22-year-old defenseman to make an impact for the Senators. After logging 6:43 of ice time in the first period alongside defense partner Marc Methot, Karlsson helped give the Sens a 1-0 lead 12:35 into the second period.
Karlsson took a pass from Milan Michalek and let go a wrister that Jakob Silfverberg redirected past Washington goaltender Michal Neuvirth for a 1-0 lead on the Senators' 14th shot of the game.
The way Craig Anderson has been playing this season, that was all the Senators needed.
Anderson stopped all 16 shots through the first 40 minutes, including three from Washington defenseman Mike Green.
Neuvirth also stood tall at the other end, stopping 38 of 39 shots through three periods.
NOTES: With the division clinched, Capitals coach Adam Oates gave starting goaltender Braden Holtby the night off after he started six straight games and appeared in 17 of 19. ... Washington right winger Joel Ward sat out his eighth straight game with a bruised left knee but skated with the team on Thursday morning and could return to the lineup on Saturday when the Capitals close out the regular season against the Bruins. ... Ovechkin played in his 600th career NHL game. No current NHL player with 600 or fewer games has amassed more points (732) or goals (370) than Ovechkin. He tied Robert Gould for 15th place in games played in Capitals history.