These Capitals are ‘a different team’
Presidents’ Trophy winners take out Flyers
The message the Washington Capitals are sending to the rest of the National Hockey League is becoming more clear by the day.
These are not the same Capitals that have failed previously in the Stanley Cup playoffs during the Alex Ovechkin era.
The Presidents’ Trophy winners on Sunday shrugged off a determined but overmatched Philadelphia Flyers team, completing a first-round series victory with a 1-0 win at the Wells Fargo Center.
Just as Capitals coach Barry Trotz and the players had predicted, there was no straying from the overall mindset, and certainly no panic, after the Flyers won consecutive games to climb back into the series from a 3-0 hole.
Washington, which will clash with Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round, wasn’t as dominant as it was in Game 5 when the Flyers won in an upset, but played smart hockey in the deciding game.
“We have come a long way from last year,” Trotz said, referring to his initial season in Washington.
“When I first stepped behind the bench, I felt there was a little bit of nervousness in tight games. We have come full circle where we are comfortable being uncomfortable, if you will, when the games are tight.
“We have some quality people. We don’t have to win the game 5-1. We understand every game can be won in different ways. Sometimes it is going to be wide open and we will play that way. Sometimes it will be very physical and we are capable of that. Sometimes you are not going to get much and you have to be patient.
“That is probably where we have grown the most, in patience and poise, with our team in the last two years.”
It starts with the captain, Ovechkin, who began the play that led to Nicklas Backstrom’s serieswinning goal at 8:59 of the second period.
Ovechkin led all players in the series with 29 shots on goal and had a team-high 28 hits.
Backstrom led the Capitals in scoring with seven points; the penalty killers were excellent, giving up just one goal on 24 Flyers power plays.
Goalie Braden Holtby was himself, which is close to unbeatable.
The Flyers were hoping their backup goalie, Michal Neuvirth, could put the team on his shoulders after relieving Steve Mason to start Game 4.
It worked for a bit, but as the Flyers’ top offensive players continued firing blanks in the face of a stiff Capitals defence with Holtby as the backbone, it was not sustainable.
The resolve of players such as Justin Williams and Mike Richards for the Capitals can’t be overlooked. They bring playoff knowledge earned through years of NHL post-season battles that can’t be drawn up on the whiteboard.
And for the players who have been with the Caps through past playoff disappointments, there are lessons learned.
Add it up, and it’s why the Caps will get some rest instead of playing Game 7.
“We’re a different team,” defenceman Karl Alzner said. “We got a lot of guys who have really good character, really good experience and (more trouble in the playoffs) is not what we’re thinking.
“I know a lot of people are thinking that and they see the same uniform on the ice. It’s different people, different heads, different ways we handle the pressure.”
This is the eighth year the Caps have participated in the Stanley Cup tournament since Ovechkin was a rookie in 2006. They have not made it past the second round, and in four of those years, they lost a series after taking a two-game lead.
Ovechkin is steeled to the memories. The Caps and Penguins will meet in the post-season for the first time since the 2009 conference semifinal, won by Pittsburgh in seven games after Washington took a 2-0 lead.
What does Ovechkin recall about that series? “Nothing,” Ovechkin said. Nor should he. These aren’t the same Capitals.
“I don’t know when we are going to play the next game,” Ovechkin said. “We have some bruises ... mentally I think we forget about this series and get focused on the next one. It’s huge.”’