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Caps shouldn’t rest on laurels of regular season success against Bruins

Boston different team in playoffs

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NEW YORK — Dennis Wideman spent parts of four seasons in Boston and watched intently last spring as his old Bruins teammates captured the Stanley Cup.

He and the Washington Capitals beat the defending champions three out of four times this year.

But Wideman knows better. The All-Star defenseman knows what regular-season success means this time of year.

"It means nothing," Wideman said. "Boston, they're a different team in the playoffs. We had success against them throughout the regular season, but I think you're going to see a different team [when] we play them in the first round."

It is Capitals vs. Bruins in the first round, beginning with Game 1 Thursday night at TD Garden. Washington got there by beating the New York Rangers 4-1 in Madison Square Garden on Saturday night, the kind of game that could be the recipe for success in the playoffs.

In knocking off the Eastern Conference-best Rangers, the Caps finally looked like a contender.

"I don't know if it's a statement win. It's just we wanted to come in and play a good hockey game. That was it," forward Brooks Laich said. "This time of year you don't ever want to let anybody think that they can beat you. You certainly don't want to have that losing feeling. So I don't know if it's a statement game. It's just our team continuing to play well."

No losing feeling, just four victories in their final five games to go into this series with momentum.

It helps that star center Nicklas Backstrom finally appears to be regaining his form four games back from a prolonged absence cause by a concussion. It helps that young goaltender Braden Holtby is feeling confident despite limited NHL action this season.

It also helps that the Caps didn't look out of place against the big, strong and deep Bruins this season.

"It plays into it a little bit. They've got a lot of playoff experience with a Cup last year," right wing Troy Brouwer said. "They play tough in the playoffs, and everyone will tell you when you get into the playoffs it's a completely different game."

A game that's seemingly custom-made for the Bruins, whose interchangeable parts, tough defense and goaltending make them a favorite, if not the favorite, to come out of the Eastern Conference.

And though Boston likely would have preferred a matchup against the Ottawa Senators, general manager Peter Chiarelli didn't sound worried about recent losses to the Caps.

"At some point, you're going to have to play these teams to beat them. Oftentimes, the season magic doesn't always translate into the postseason matchup," Chiarelli said on a conference call Sunday. "Record shows that we haven't played as well against Washington. For that reason, it probably is going to be a tougher opponent [than Ottawa]. Not disappointed. Just ready to move on and face them as opponents."

The Caps are ready, too.

For the first time during this core's stretch of five straight playoff appearances, they will open without home-ice advantage. Despite lofty preseason expectations, they can play the underdog role against the Bruins.

"They're Stanley Cup champions. They know how to play in playoffs," captain Alex Ovechkin said. "They're hard team to play against, but for us it's going to be huge opportunity to beat Stanley Cup champion and move forward."

In order to move forward, the Caps need much more than repeat performances of their games vs. Boston this season.

"That all goes out the window when it comes to playoffs. Stats — you guys can look at that, but that all goes right out the window," Laich said. "Its a new season, and its a tough building to play in. Were going to have to play our absolute best in that series."

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