- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 17, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

I don’t know what everyone expected from the Washington Capitals in this opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Here’s what I expected: The Capitals giving up a goal when facing a five-on-three penalty kill. The Capitals on the losing end when the opposing team has a 19-5 advantage in shots on goal after the first period. The Capitals watching as the Flyers score on a fluke dump-off goal 100 feet away from the net.

Why? Because, one way or another, that’s what the Capitals have always done.

I didn’t expect the opposite of all that to happen — which did Saturday night at Verizon Center in the Capitals‘ 4-1 win over the Flyers, which gave them a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.



Let’s face it: The story for the Capitals in this series, and moving on, is all about expectations. You can parade the Presidents’ Trophy and an outstanding regular-season record around the block all you want, but every game, every play will carry the expectations of what has come before.


SEE ALSO: Steve Mason’s blunder a costly one as Capitals take 2-0 series lead on Flyers


Nicklas Backstrom, who put the game away with his goal near the end of the third period, has been around long enough to even wonder himself about what to expect — especially given the way the Capitals coasted to the end of the season after clinching their playoff berth and seeding so early.

“I was wondering how we would respond, a little bit,” Backstrom said. “It’s not easy to just shut it on and off. I think we have responded well. We know we are a good team and we want to play hard every night.”

They’ve been good before, and I’m sure they wanted to play hard every night before.

But maybe, just maybe, this difference is this, from Backstrom: “We keep battling. We never give up.”

That’s a new look for a Capitals playoff team.

Please forgive me, but this Capitals team feels different.

Events and circumstances where the Capitals are usually on the losing end are resulting in different outcomes.

Consider Jason Chimera’s bizarre backhanded shot — if you could call it a shot — that went through Philadelphia goaltender Steve Mason’s legs at 2:26 of the second period to give Washington a 2-0 lead.

“I’ve been on the other end of those,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said.

Consider Capitals goalie Braden Holtby stopping all 19 shots in the first round — 41 for the game — with Philadelphia having just one goal to show for it.

“The only stat that really matters is the one they put on the scoreboard,” Trotz said.

That stat favored Washington on Saturday night, but there was so much more to it than the scoreboard. That 4-1 lead was put up there by a team that doesn’t seem to flinch at those moments where they seemingly invite disaster.

That 4-1 lead was put up there by a team where defenseman John Carlson scored a power-play goal in a second consecutive game, and only four other defensemen in franchise history have scored two power-play goals in an entire series, let alone just two games.

That 4-1 lead was put up there by a team whose star player, Alex Ovechkin, energized his teammates with a big hit he put on Brayden Schenn in the second period, sending Schenn into the Philadelphia bench, as much as he did with his late second-period goal.

Two minutes after Ovechkin’s hit, Carlson put the Capitals ahead with the power-play goal — nearly a replica of the one he scored from the high slot on Thursday night.

I know it’s just 2-0 at home and the series shifts now to Philadelphia, where fans there expect a body count after every game. And, I know this franchise has been here before, up 2-0 three times in the Alex Ovechkin era, only to lose two of them: The first round in 2013 and the infamous 2-0 lead against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2009.

But this even feels different than the 2-0 lead they built against the New York Rangers in the opening round in 2011, going on to win that series in five games only to be swept by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the next round.

Why? Because Trotz says you ain’t seen nothing yet.

“As the series goes on, I think we will get more in the battle mode,” he said.

Postseason battle mode would be a new look as well for the Capitals.

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