Rewind two seasons and there were the Capitals, a young team trying to win the franchise's first playoff series in 11 years. After two games at home, they were down 2-0, and then 3-1 after four. But they still managed to come all the way back to beat the New York Rangers.
Gone is game-winning goal-scorer Sergei Fedorov and half of that group, which lost in the second round to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Only nine players who suited up for that Game 7 will take the ice Wednesday night when the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against New York opens up at Verizon Center, but that doesn't mean the value of 2009 is lost on this team.
"We showed a lot of character to come back," forward Matt Bradley said. "Obviously that was a big series for us."
The coaches and many key pieces are the same - Bruce Boudreau, Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom versus John Tortorella, Chris Drury, Sean Avery and Henrik Lundqvist. But New York has experienced an even greater turnover of players since and needed the final weekend of the regular season just to get into the playoffs.
Perhaps the biggest difference, though, is with the Caps.
"Back then we didn't have the Carlsons and Alzners, we had the Greens and the Schultzs and the Ovechkins and the Backstroms [who] were the first- or second-year guys," Boudreau said. "They were the young guys. So the biggest difference is gonna be age."
Washington still features a young group, as evidenced by John Carlson being just 21 and Marcus Johansson getting his first taste of NHL playoff action. The 20-year-old Swede has the same anticipation about facing the Rangers this time as his now-veteran teammates had about facing them in '09 and the Philadelphia Flyers the year before.
"I think it's gonna be kinda the same, but everything a little better, everything a little faster," he said. "Playoffs is when hockey's the most fun. You're looking forward to it, and it's gonna be a great time."
It was for the Caps two years ago when they beat the Rangers. But elation over just being there is gone with this group. Last year's first-round loss against the Montreal Canadiens did that.
Still, it's a maturation process that Boudreau is glad to be on the other side of now.
"I'll tell ya what - experience is the greatest teacher. You know what to expect; you're not going in awestruck," the Caps' coach said. "We'll be going in just like them - just hungry. And the guys that have played it before know how much it gets ramped up in the playoffs, and we should be able to be fine."
<b>Notes:</b> The Caps signed veteran winger Mike Knuble to a one-year extension worth $2 million Monday. Knuble, who has put together eight straight 20-goal seasons, said it wasn't about chasing every dollar as much as being happy with this group in Washington for another season. ... Matt Hendricks is the Caps' nominee for the Masterton Trophy, given to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication, as chosen by the D.C. chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. Former Caps goalie Jose Theodore won it last season.
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