Heading into an important game in Carolina on March 14, the Washington Capitals had lost three straight, their two best players combining for just one point in that span. If Washington was going to make a push for the playoffs, it needed to hurry.

So Coach Adam Oates reunited franchise pillars Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom on the same line for the first time since the first week of the season, even though the Capitals’ bench boss now insists he can’t recall why he thought it was a good idea to put the struggling players together.

“Can’t really remember exactly what the decision was,” Oates said recently. “Just probably looking for a spark.”

He got one. In the 17 games since the change, Ovechkin and Backstrom have once again been Washington’s dynamic duo, combining for 49 points and 21 of the team’s 57 goals and leading the charge in a 13-3-1 run up the Eastern Conference standings.

Whether the timing of the reunion — just as both players appeared genuinely comfortable in Oates’s system, and Ovechkin familiar with the right wing — or the chemistry honed over six years as teammates has had more to do with the pair’s recent surge is uncertain. Either way, it was just what the Capitals needed.

“Your supporting players can only take you so far, and you need your top players to win you games most nights,” forward Troy Brouwer said. “You need your best players to be your best players. Everyone else around the league who’s doing well, team-wise, their leading scorers are their top line, and that’s how it should be. Nicky and Ovi have played together for quite a few number of years; they’ve got good chemistry between them.”