Eleven weeks ago when the Washington Capitals sat adrift as the worst team in the NHL, few believed that this squad with its new coach and new system could find a way to pull itself together and reach the playoffs.

On Tuesday night, the Capitals demonstrated the product of months of perseverance and hard-earned progress to complete a meteoric rise up the standings. Washington clinched their fifth Southeast Division title in the past six years and their sixth consecutive postseason berth with a 5-3 win over the Winnipeg Jets at Verizon Center.

“The way we started there were a lot of doubters,” said Matt Hendricks, who recorded the first goal of the game. “Our fans were against us a little bit, the media was hard on us a little bit. But we came and did what we set out to do and it’s a great feeling.”

As the sellout crowd on F Street stood in salute for the final four minutes of regulation and well after the victory was sealed, it was a night for validation.

For at least a little while, the Capitals get to enjoy the reward from all the practices and games spent making gradual improvement. The positive details that nurtured confidence and helped instill the belief in this group, which sat 10 points out of the division lead as recently as March 10, that it could eventually succeed.

“I think the beginning of the year when it was new coaching staff, new system, we change our lines and we just don’t know how to play,” said Alex Ovechkin, who recorded an empty-net goal for his league-best 31st goal of the season. “We need some time to realize how we have to play. It take us probably 15 games, maybe 16 games to realize it. We try to find the lineup, we try to find good chemistry and it started working after 15, 16 games.”

While Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom both scored, in this critical game it was role players who stepped up early and often. Hendricks along with third-liners Jason Chimera and Mathieu Perreault each recorded a goal and rugged defenseman John Erskine wrote a new chapter as a folk hero by helping to keep two pucks out of the net.