Cap­i­tals shrug at talk of Pres­i­dents’ Tro­phy

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY NORA PRINCIOTTI

Late Wed­nes­day night, as the Cap­i­tals trudged one by one into their locker room un­der­neath the Ver­i­zon Cen­ter, not one player stopped to con­grat­u­late an­other for their win over the New York Rangers, which se­cured them the NHL’s best record for the sec­ond year in a row. There was cer­tainly no cham­pagne, and there was barely any cel­e­brat­ing.

“We only do that for five sec­onds, that’s it,” cen­ter Evgeny Kuznetsov said.

Had some lost soul passed by, (granted, such peo­ple don’t typ­i­cally wan­der into NHL locker rooms, but sus­pend your disbelief mo­men­tar­ily) it would not have been ap­par­ent that the 23 play­ers in­side that room had just proven them­selves to be hockey’s best for the sec­ond year run­ning.

The Pres­i­dents’ Tro­phy? Shrug. “I don’t care about that,” Kuznetsov said.

In the same breath, how­ever, Kuznetsov con­tra­dicted him­self.

“Maybe it’s some­where in the head when we think about that but we never talk about it,” he said. “Some guys [will] say they didn’t care, they lie. It’s al­ways nice to win some­thing.”

It’s true that most peo­ple en­joy win­ning, and get­ting a tro­phy that says you’ve con­sis­tently been bet­ter than your com­pe­ti­tion doesn’t ex­actly sound like a chore, right?

Wrong. At least ac­cord­ing to Braden Holtby.

“The only nice thing about the Pres­i­dents’ Tro­phy right now is that we [win] our divi­sion,” the Cap­i­tals’ goalie said. “The other stuff doesn’t re­ally mat­ter, just the way it played out. We have two more games and that’s to feed off these last three and go into the play­offs in the right frame of mind feel­ing good about our game.”

As you prob­a­bly al­ready know, the Pres­i­dents’ Tro­phy comes with some ex­tra bag­gage for the Cap­i­tals, who have been the best reg­u­lar-sea­son team in the NHL over the past decade but have lit­tle to show from it by way of play­off suc­cess.

This is why Kuznetsov’s con­tra­dic­tion ac­tu­ally makes sense. It’s fun to win things, but a lit­tle less fun when what you win is ba­si­cally a shiny re­minder of the mon­key on your back.

Se­cur­ing the best record in the NHL does come with tan­gi­ble ben­e­fits: home ice in the play­offs and the sched­ule of a No. 1 seed.

“I think we knew what was go­ing on, but it was more about the play­off sit­u­a­tion,” Holtby said. “You ob­vi­ously want to not play ei­ther Pitts­burgh or Columbus in the first round, but in the end it doesn’t mat­ter. You got to go through good teams, and hope­fully this just gives us a lit­tle bit more of an ad­van­tage.”

Win­ning also tends to make ev­ery­thing else go smoothly, a byproduct the Cap­i­tals have en­joyed for some time now.

“In the morn­ing you come to the prac­tice, you have pos­i­tive mood. It’s al­ways nice when you win cou­ple games when you’re on top of the league,” Kuznetsov said. “When you prac­tice, you can feel more confident in the group and the guys just smile and en­joy the life. It’s just nice to come ev­ery morn­ing.”

Last sea­son, how­ever, it looked as though the Cap­i­tals suc­cumbed to some of the pit­falls of suc­cess.

They clinched the Pres­i­dents’ Tro­phy on March 28 last year with seven games still re­main­ing in the reg­u­lar sea­son. Hav­ing al­ready clinched the Metropoli­tan Divi­sion and East­ern Con­fer­ence titles they had noth­ing left to play for, and went 2-2-3 down the stretch.

The Cap­i­tals then cruised through the first round of the play­offs be­fore los­ing to the even­tual-Stan­ley Cup Cham­pion Pitts­burgh Pen­guins in the sec­ond.

Over the past cou­ple weeks, Cap­i­tals coach Barry Trotz has said re­peat­edly that the Pres­i­dents’ Tro­phy won’t be brought up in the locker room, and fol­lowed through Wed­nes­day night.

“We didn’t men­tion it,” Trotz said. “All I said was, ‘Good work by us.’”

Trotz also said he’s no­ticed his team play­ing more phys­i­cally over the last sev­eral games games and that, over­all, the play­ers have more fo­cus and ur­gency than at this time last sea­son.

“It feels like it, that’s for sure,” Trotz said. “Last year, we just went through it. This year we’re com­pet­ing.”

The Cap­i­tals play the Bru­ins on Satur­day and then host the Pan­thers on Sun­day in the fi­nal game of the reg­u­lar sea­son. If they make it out of the first round of the play­offs, the quirks of the post­sea­son for­mat could pit them against the Pen­guins in the sec­ond round yet again.

That matchup that would force one of the league’s best teams to go home be­fore round three so, all things con­sid­ered, the No. 1 seed only goes so far. If the Cap­i­tals want a tro­phy they can get a bit more ex­cited about, they will just have to go far­ther.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Washington Cap­i­tals goalie Braden Holtby said Thurs­day that “the only nice thing about the Pres­i­dents’ Tro­phy right now is that we [win] our divi­sion.

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