- - Tuesday, April 10, 2018

It won’t matter who is in goal for the Washington Capitals in the Stanley Cup playoffs — Philipp Grubauer, coach Barry Trotz’s choice for Game 1 on Thursday night against Columbus, or Braden Holtby — if this happens:

During Saturday night’s Alex Ovechkin-to-50 goals house party at the Capital One Arena, with less than a minute left in the second period and Washington leading New Jersey 3-1, Alex Chiasson stood in front of Holtby protecting the net. Then the Devils’ Miles Wood came along and knocked Chiasson out of the way. Wood stood there and parked himself in front of Holtby until the puck came his way and he scored.

Given the “We Want 50” chants as Ovechkin tried to reach the half-century mark once again for goals scored and Washington’s 5-3 win, it got lost in the hoopla and the good feeling of entering the opening round playoff series against Columbus on a winning note. But it was a bad sign — a familiar sign for the Capitals in postseason play.

The long and consistent failures of the Capitals in the playoffs in the Ovechkin early — early exits — can be chalked up to many things, including the randomness of playoff hockey. But one common problem has been the Capitals’ inability to defend in front of their goalie — and, at the other end, a lack of Miles Wood type of players to establish their presence in front of the net and score those yard stick goals.

Those long sniper shots by Ovechkin may be fun to watch, but they don’t win playoff series. Goals like the one Wood scored do.

Then again, we have been told by Trotz that these Capitals are different.

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“It feels a lot different than it has in the past,” Trotz said. “There was, sort of, a time where we got frustrated sometimes with our own guys in the past. This team just played. I think we feel ready.”

Now that was interesting. Trotz revealed that previous Capitals teams had some internal issues. I guess those are in the past.

There are some noticeable differences this year. Washington has improved its 5-on-5 play — particularly Ovechkin, who had 32 full strength goals this season.

“Sometimes we’re so reliant on the power play, but in the playoffs, the power play will be used, special teams will be used, but what really separates the teams is their five on five play — are you able to defend for a 60 minute contest, are you able to score five on five,” Trotz said.

The coach, who appears to be playing for a new contract, has gone to the chip-on-the-shoulder motivational tool for these playoffs — you know, nobody believe in us, everyone is against us — something that he has been unable to use in the past, since his teams had been the best in the NHL regular season before this year.

“I don’t know how many people picked us early in the season, in the first 10, 12 games of the season,” Trotz said several weeks ago. “I know we were on the Canadian trip and no one had us in the playoffs. There’s a lot of doubters outside the room, but I think, inside, we knew we just needed to heal and we’d find our game and we’d be okay.”

Ovechkin has bought into the notion that a lesser Capitals regular season team is somehow better for the playoffs. “I think it’s a good thing because I think last two years we were on top of the league and we win Presidents’ Trophy,” he said. “Everybody thought we were going to be unstoppable in playoffs and we didn’t. … We’re going to do our thing and we’re going to have success.”

Hopefully, Washington won’t be using another motivational speech this year from Tony Robbins, the self-help guru, #MeToo enemy and business partner with Ted Leonsis (investors in that Team Liquid geek squad electronic gamer team) like they did last year to try to talk them into success. It didn’t do much good — Washington struggled to get out of the first round against Toronto and then came the familiar loss in seven games to Pittsburgh.

Maybe Trotz can borrow Nationals manager Dave Martinez’s camels — though he may need them again soon.

Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.

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