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Dale Hunter's 2012 team flipped a switch when the playoffs began. Adam Oates' team showed in Game 1 against the Rangers that nothing changed from the regular season.
Joel Ward returned for Game 1 of the Caps' Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the New York Rangers after missing the final nine regular-season games with a bruised left knee.
After a victory late in the regular season that included two goals by Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom was asked if it felt like the "good old days" when the franchise cornerstones powered a high-scoring team. "It depends how it is in the playoffs," he said. "And we weren't that successful in the playoffs in the past."
Adam Oates walked into the locker room after the Washington Capitals' final regular-season game Saturday night and told captain Alex Ovechkin he wanted to meet with players after they spoke to reporters. The coach wanted to make sure his guys were prepared to face the New York Rangers in the playoffs beginning Tuesday. The only problem is the Caps and Rangers' Eastern Conference quarterfinal series starts Thursday, not Tuesday, throwing the variable of extra rest into the equation.
Scoring his 11th and 12th goals of the season, the defenseman reminded everyone of his value to the Washington Capitals in Saturday night's 3-2 overtime victory over the Boston Bruins.
With one more game left that has no bearing on their seed, the Caps are left to wonder whether they'll face the Ottawa Senators, New York Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs or New York Islanders in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs when they begin next week.
Growing up playing hockey, Matt Hendricks remembered the kind of language he would hear. It wasn't always appropriate. "Words were probably thrown around a little bit too loosely," the Washington Capitals forward said.
At 2-8-1 on Feb. 8 there was reason for doubt, same thing March 20 after a devastating loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins that put the Caps nine points back of the Winnipeg Jets. But one man didn't lose faith in the Caps: the rookie head coach whose positivity in the lean times so often ran opposite the trend of losing.
It's Washington's sixth straight playoff appearance and fifth division championship in that time. It's also something that would have been difficult to envision at several points earlier this season. The Caps started 2-8-1 and were at the bottom of the NHL standings.