- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Presidents’ Trophy could be the center of attention at championship parades.

Children could be baptized in it. It could be put on display at the local community center. Someone could eat or drink from it — the top is a glass bowl, after all — but doing so would require considerable strength and some crafty maneuvering.

For all the things the trophy could be, one thing it definitely does is recognize excellence, much like the Stanley Cup. To ascribe such a similar meaning to it, though, would be downright silly.

“Honestly, no one really cares about the Presidents’ Trophy,” said Karl Alzner, whose Washington Capitals earned it for the second time in franchise history in Monday’s 4-1 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets. “To be honest with you, it’s just a nice feather in the cap, but we’re happy to get the opportunity to have home ice [advantage], which is huge.”

It appeared inevitable for months that the Capitals would claim the best record in the NHL, with each successive victory pushing them further into the league’s annals. As recently as last month, they were on pace to match, if not surpass, the Montreal Canadiens’ record of 132 points in the standings — a mark that has stood since the 1976-77 season.

They have not yet lost consecutive games in regulation and have lost back-to-back outings just three times all season. Their next victory will be their 55th, which would be a franchise record; a win in any of their three remaining home games would give them 30 on the season, another mark.

“I think we all knew it was coming,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “We’re not spraying champagne or anything, but I think guys are happy. It’s a marathon. We won the marathon, and now we get to prepare for the seven-game sprints.”

The difficulty for Washington will lie in translating its regular-season success to the playoffs. Since its inception in 1986, the Presidents’ Trophy has often served as a golden ticket to the Stanley Cup Final — though only three teams have done so since a lockout wiped out the entire 2004-05 season.

That fact is not lost on the Capitals, who endured one of the more noticeable playoff exits the first time they claimed the trophy in 2010. Clearly the top team in the league — their 121 points were eight more than the San Jose Sharks and 18 more than their nearest Eastern Conference challengers, the New Jersey Devils — they lost to the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs despite taking a 3-1 advantage in the best-of-seven series.

Such a collapse mitigated the only true spoil of regular-season success. Though they held home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs, the Capitals hosted both the opening loss and their elimination game.

Alzner posited that such an advantage helped Washington in its first-round matchup with the New York Islanders last season — a series that stretched to seven games before the Capitals advanced. T.J. Oshie, acquired via trade in the offseason, said things such as having the second line change can create an edge in the playoffs’ traditional low-scoring affairs.

“But at the same time, it doesn’t matter,” said center Nicklas Backstrom, who pointed to that first-round loss in 2010 as evidence. “For me, it’s just a matter of, ‘Get to the playoffs.’ Teams one through eight [can] beat anyone.”

That’s why coach Barry Trotz believes the Capitals’ approach to the next seven games, beginning on Wednesday with a road contest against the Philadelphia Flyers, a potential first-round playoff opponent, will have a significant effect on their postseason.

Except for granting an additional day off here or there, he has already opted to not rest his players, believing that their routine and collective momentum play a large role in stability.

He also wanted the team to understand the significance of the achievement, but also to recognize that it’s now part of the past. A brief mention of the honor was made following Monday’s game, but it likely won’t be a conversation piece again until a banner is hung in the Verizon Center rafters next fall.

“Every player that’s in that room, growing up, no matter when they started playing the game, they were playing for the Stanley Cup; they never played for the Presidents’ Trophy,” Trotz said. “We all would like to be in that position to play for the one Cup that we all dreamed about when you’re playing on the streets or in the hallways of the house or hotel or whatever. That’s the one that we want to play for.”

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