The Capitals will face the New York Rangers in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs for a second time in three years. Both in composition and demeanor, though, this Washington squad is a different one, a more experienced one, than the group that rallied from a 3-1 deficit to dispatch the Blueshirts in seven games in the spring of 2009.
Of the players who were on the active roster for Game 7 against the Rangers back on Apr. 28, 2009, 11 no longer wear a Capitals’ sweater. They are: Donald Brashear, Chris Clark, Sergei Fedorov, Tomas Fleischmann, Milan Jurcina, Viktor Kozlov, Shaone Morrisonn, David Steckel, Jose Theodore, Brian Pothier and Michael Nylander.
Now for the players on the Capitals’ current roster who weren’t a part of that series: Forwards Jason Arnott, Jay Beagle, Jason Chimera, Matt Hendricks, D.J. King, Marcus Johansson, Mike Knuble and Marco Sturm. Defensemen Karl Alzner, John Carlson, Sean Collins, Scott Hannan, Tyler Sloan, the injured Dennis Wideman and goaltender Michal Neuvirth.
That’s a pretty significant turnover since the series two years ago. While there has been an influx of young players who will play their first major roles in the NHL postseason this spring, players such as Alzner, Carlson, Johansson and Neuvirth have mostly defied their age this season. How they react in the playoffs remains to be seen, but there isn’t any doubt among the Capitals that those players can continue to carry significant responsibility.
But what Coach Bruce Boudreau suggested may be a key for the Capitals is the fact that their core group of players – including Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, etc. – have all gone through two more seasons and two more playoff series since then.
The core of Washington’s team is now one that has endured the disappointment of a first-round series loss to Montreal a season ago and that went through the installation of a new system this year.
“They were the young guys, so the biggest difference is going to be age, and the goaltending is completely different,” Boudreau said..
“I’ll tell you what, experience is the greatest teacher,” Boudreau said. “You know what to expect, you’re not going in awestruck. We’ll be going in just like them, just hungry, and the guys that have played it before know how much it gets ramped up in the playoffs.”