Jitters over; Capitals’ focus turns to Lightning

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Minimal fanfare surrounded opening night for the Washington Capitals. Their 2010-11 Southeast Division Champions banner was simply lowered into place, and the roster wasn’t announced as happens in so many other buildings at the start of the season.

Of course, the nerves were there. Saturday night’s 4-3 overtime victory over the Carolina Hurricanes was the first step for a group that includes five substantial new pieces and a core that aims for more significant banners to hang from Verizon Center’s rafters.

“It’s like being the first day on the job and going into the office,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “You’re nervous - whether you’re a 20-year vet doing the job or just brand new.”

Those opening-night jitters are out of the way, but Game 2 doesn’t provide the Capitals with a chance to come down from that energy high, as the Tampa Bay Lightning — who swept them in the second round of the playoffs - come to town.

“We’re lucky that we get to start with a good rivalry with Carolina and then Tampa right away,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “All the guys want to beat them really bad, so it’s going to be an intense game”

No one around the Caps needs to be reminded of last spring, when Tampa Bay took care of business in four straight. Against Carolina, defenseman Mike Green admitted he and his teammates started a bit slow because of nerves; that’s something they cannot afford against the likes of right wing Marty St. Louis and center Steven Stamkos.

And while the opener often proves “overwhelming at times” because of the intensity, according to forward Troy Brouwer, the idea that the Caps need to stay focused remains the same.

“Going into the second game it’s kind of the same approach: You want to get off to a good start to the season,” he said. “You start the season with a win, and you want to carry that over as long as you can.”

Alzner conceded that last season there were too many times when Washington would get up for a rivalry game, such as against Pittsburgh, but then suffer a letdown in a less-hyped matchup.

Consider it lesson learned.

“You don’t want to have those lulls like we did last year,” Alzner said. “We weren’t always into it. We want to try to stay even the entire year.”

Saturday night was a good example of the Caps staying even-keeled despite some up-and-down play. When they gave up the lead late, Boudreau’s message was simple: “We’ll get another one. Don’t worry, guys.”

Green scored the winner in overtime, on the power play no less. But it was as much a result of working through the rest of the third and overtime as it was the power-play unit coming through.

“Once we settled down and we started finishing our checks and getting on the forecheck, we tired them out and I felt that paid off in overtime,” he said.

As much as a gutty win like that can build confidence, Monday’s nationally televised game is enough pressure to avoid feeling too good about being 1-0-0.

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