Legendary N.C. State basketball coach Jim Valvano made an excellent point going into the 1983 NCAA championship against the Phi Slama Jama Houston team. N.C. State was given little chance, but Valvano said his Wolfpack had a chance because they were still playing, unlike every other team in the nation.
George McPhee sounded a lot like that Monday when discussing the Washington Capitals going into the playoffs.
“We’re just delighted to be playing, like we are every other year. There were 14 teams that were officially eliminated over the weekend and we’re playing and one of 16 teams that would love to win the Stanley Cup,” McPhee said. “And we have a chance, like the other teams do.”
Certainly not the same bravado the Caps’ GM flashed Feb. 27 when he said his team could beat anyone in the Eastern Conference with Nicklas Backstrom healthy.
Now that Backstrom is healthy, McPhee was asked if held that same belief Monday as he did at the trade deadline.
“We’re just happy he’s back. We’re happy that we’re practicing here today preparing for the playoffs and we’re happy that Nicky’s back playing hockey and he’s healthy,” McPhee said. “He’s only played four games obviously, so we have to be realistic. But he’s improving, and we’re happy he’s a hockey player again.”
The idea seemed to be that with Backstrom healthy, this team was capable of anything. Obviously without goaltenders Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth at least to start and 22-year-old Braden Holtby likely to get the nod for Game 1 Thursday at the Boston Bruins, it’s harder to judge.
“We’ll let you know. We’re just going to go out and play and see what develops,” McPhee said. “I don’t know what we’re capable of but we’re proud that these guys played through a tough year and we’re preparing to start playing on Thursday.”