Two seasons ago, the Caps captured the Presidents’ Trophy with the most points in the NHL. Even last season, they made a run to finish atop the Eastern Conference.
Those were both supposed to be “the year,” but losses to the Montreal Canadiens in the first round in 2010 and to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round in 2011 brought high hopes to an end in low-blow fashion.
Last year’s sweep by the Lightning stung particularly hard. Boudreau talked over the summer about just wanting to get back on the ice to put the postseason behind him, and his players weren’t able to forget.
“It wasn’t fun for anybody. It was terrible,” center Marcus Johansson said. “We never want to have that happen again, so of course you think about it.”
Reasons for the early exit abound, from injuries to defensemen to stars not being able to match the intensity and production of Tampa Bay’s supporting cast. Even now, it’s still frustrating for many around the team to think about the missed opportunity.
“You just don’t have that many chances as a group to do well,” Knuble said. “You have to realize when you’re a good team in a good position that the time is right and the players are out there, and you’ve got to take advantage of it.”
All the right moves
NBC hockey play-by-play man Mike Emrick doesn’t make postseason predictions until after the trade deadline. That’s when, he said, you can see what a team has to offer in April, May and June.
At last year’s deadline, McPhee acquired defenseman Dennis Wideman and center Jason Arnott and claimed wing Marco Sturm off waivers. It was the hope that those veterans would add the right voices in the room and the right play on the ice to win a title.
“I think [McPhee] did a great job. They didn’t just go willy-nilly and pick free agents,” Boudreau said. “They picked guys that they thought were not only really good but would be good fits for our hockey club.”
Toughness for the skaters and experience all around was the common theme. Except for Brouwer, who won it all with the Chicago Blackhawks two seasons ago, none have had team success in the playoffs.
But all fit the bill of leaders either vocally or quietly as the Caps look to squeeze more out of the entire team come playoff time. And the Caps brought back Laich at $4.5 million per year because he fits into the mix as a leader, too.
“We believe that we have the group that can win in here, Laich said.
‘C’ is for pressure