- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 14, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Before the start of the Washington Capitals‘ opening-round Stanley Cup playoff matchup with the Philadelphia Flyers, general manager Brian MacLellan was asked if he was concerned this team was complacent going into the playoffs after a dominating regular season that allowed them to coast at the end.

“I think complacency sets in when you know where you’re going to be and they’re not must-wins,” MacLellan said. “I think the challenge has been for the coaching staff to balance out where we were in the standings and still hold our team accountable to get us ready to be playing the right way at the end.”

Consider that challenge met.

There was nothing complacent about anything that happened on the Verizon Center ice Thursday night as the Capitals banged and battered their way to a hard-fought 2-0 victory — right to the scrum that took place at the end of the game — to take a one-game lead in the best-of-seven series. Game 2 is Saturday night back at Verizon Center.



“That was a tough, hard hockey game out there,” Philadelphia coach Dave Hakstol said.

Complacent? There’s not going to be anything complacent about this series. You’re complacent on the ice in this series, you might lose your teeth — like Brooks Orpik did in the third period.

If there were any concerns about how mentally prepared — mentally tough — this Presidents’ Trophy-winning Capitals squad was for the postseason, they disappeared quickly Thursday night. The sold-out crowd could sense it, right up to the point it exploded when John Carlson scored from the high slot on a power play — the third one for Washington in the second period — that bounced off Chris VandeVelde and got past Flyers goalie Steve Mason at 16:21 to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead.

Jay Beagle added another one — a five-on-five goal — at 16:36 of the third period, but Carlson’s goal would be all Washington would need as goaltender Braden Holtby stopped 19 shots and the Capitals defense limited Philadelphia’s offense to just eight shots on goal in the second and third periods combined.

Complacent? Carlson said that is a foreign concept to this team.

“That has been our mentality the whole year, to go after every game and be focused and stay in the moment,” he said. “I think today was a good example of that. We just stuck with it, stuck with it, then we got a bounce and we just kept sticking with it. We kept moving forward. We didn’t just crawl up in a shell and try to defend the whole time. I think that is important, and a building block for us. Now we’ll get ready for the next one.”

Complacent? Maybe in game 79 or 80 of the regular season. Not the opening game before the home crowd in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

“We didn’t have to fake it tonight,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “It was good. We had good focus, good intensity. Really strong effort from a lot of guys and most of the team. I thought we knew exactly how we wanted to play, how we wanted the game to go and we had really good execution.”

Complacent? Capitals coach Barry Trotz was a little curious about that himself.

“We hadn’t played a real emotional game for a while,” he said. “As the game went on, we got better and better at it. I think the guys really responded.”

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