Last season, the Capitals came off their best regular-season in history -- but needed Sergei Fedorov's goal in the third period of Game 7 to avoid losing to the seventh-seeded Rangers in their first-round playoff series.
Now, Washington will look to learn from its experience -- and deal with increased expectations after shattering last year's points total and winning the franchise's first Presidents' Trophy -- as it opens the playoffs Thursday against Montreal.
"I think there's been expectations all season," Mike Green said. "We've done a fairly good job of trying to achieve them. The bar's set so high for us now that we have to make sure that we stay intact and reach our goals. Since training camp, our goal has been a Stanley Cup. The real season starts now."
Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau for one is glad the team finally reached the postseason after having clinched a playoff spot with the Southeast Division title back on March 11th.
"I think there is a bigger target [on the Capitals], but at the same time we are just anxious to get going," he said. "Once you have clinched stuff in the regular season, this is your next goal - this is the carrot, the thing that is going to drive you."
The length of accomplishments of this year's team is long, finishing with just the third 120-point season since 1977-78, scoring more goals since the 1995-96 Pittsburgh Penguins with 313, and finishing with a 54-15-13 record.
But all that won't guarantee anything come Thursday when the puck drops in the postseason.
The other two of those teams that finished with over 120 points didn't qualify for the Stanley Cup Finals, with the 2005-06 Red Wings bowing out in the first round to Edmonton.
The Canadiens played Washington tough this season, being one of just five teams to hand the Capitals a loss on home ice in regulation this season, and also earning an overtime win at Bell Centre in February to end Washington's 14-game win streak. Both teams ended up with one regulation win, one overtime/shootout win, one overtime/shootout loss and a regulation loss in four games during the series, in which all but one game was decided by a single goal.
Of course, add to that the backdrop of playing the representative of hockey-mad Quebec, and the electric atmostphere of Montreal's Bell Centre.
"It's going to be great," Alexander Semin told Yahoo! Sports' Dmitry Chesnokov. "Playing in Montreal is one of the best experiences ever. A great building."
The eyes also will be on Washington's likely starter Jose Theodore, who spent a decade with the Canadiens before being unceremoniously dealt to Colorado at the 2006 trade deadline.
Theodore, who went 20-0-3 in his last 23 decisions since Jan. 13, posted a 2.81 GAA this season and a .911 save percentage -- his best since the lockout -- but allowed four goals in 37 minutes in relief against Montreal this season. He did go 2-0 against the Habs last year with a shutout, posting a .951 save percentage and a 1.44 goals-against average.
But after last year's second-round loss to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Penguins, the Caps have been waiting to get another shot at an extended postseason run.
"I think we're more hungry, we're more focused," Green said. "And you can really sense that around the dressing room. Guys really want this. It's obviously a different game in the playoffs and we have to adjust."
And for Jason Chimera, who came over in December from Columbus, it's a chance to get a shot at the Stanley Cup.
"Anytime you get into the playoffs, it's going to be a fun time," Jason Chimera said. "Its a great time of year."
WASHINGTON CAPITALS vs. MONTREAL CANADIENS
Game 1: April 15 at Washington, 7 p.m. ET, CSN, Versus
Game 2: April 17 at Washington, 7 p.m. ET, CSN, Versus
Game 3: April 19 at Montreal, 7 p.m. ET, CSN
Game 4: April 21 at Montreal, 7 p.m. ET, CSN
Game 5*: April 23 at Washington, 7 p.m. ET, CSN
Game 6*: April 26 at Montreal, 7 p.m. ET, CSN
Game 7*: April 28 at Washington, 7 p.m., CSN
* = if necessary
Ted Starkey, a Web editor for the continuous news desk, has written for and edited high-traffic websites, including AOL News, AOL Sports, FanHouse.com, USAHockey.com and BuffaloBills.com. He also has covered the 2002 and 2010 Winter Olympics, Stanley Cup playoffs, NFL, NHL, MLB and NCAA hockey during his career.
He is a graduate of American University, with a double major in ...
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