This spring marks five consecutive postseason appearances for the Capitals, but this year is the first time in that stretch that they’ve entered the first round as the lower seed. It’s also the first time in four seasons that Washington hasn’t finished among the top two in the Eastern Conference and can be portrayed as an underdog of sorts.
The Capitals enter as the No. 7 seed without home-ice advantage, having secured a playoff berth only on their second-to-last game of the regular season and face the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins.
Asked if they viewed the situation any differently, the Capitals gave mixed responses Monday. Some players scoffed at the idea of labeling themselves underdogs, while others said they like the new set of circumstances.
“We like that. A lot of years there’s so much pressure on us, and I think now it’s been a little up and down this season,” center Nicklas Backstrom said. “We just made it into the playoff, and we’re excited to play in the playoff and obviously it’s a tough matchup against Boston. We haven’t played our best hockey yet, and hopefully we can do that now.”
Defenseman Karl Alzner seconded that take: “I like that feeling of being the underdog. A lot less expectation and hopefully we can surprise them a bit; they might take us a little too lightly. It happened to us against Montreal and it’s just the way it works.”
Whether the Capitals put too much pressure on themselves in the past or if an up-and-down season has truly lessened the expectations of playoff success may be debatable, but General Manager George McPhee also pointed to the team’s ability to cope with pressure.
When asked if the previous playoff disappointments offered a picture of what the Capitals may have been missing, McPhee brought up the importance of staying on an even keel.
“We may have learned something in the Buffalo game a few weeks ago and in the playoffs in the past. The big games, the games of hype, the guys that are young probably made them too big,” McPhee said. “Instead, just follow your normal routine and play and I think that we’ve learned the last couple of weeks, if we just go out and play, we’ll be fine. So that may be something that the young guys have learned. It’s a process.”
Count Brooks Laich and Alex Ovechkin among those who didn’t want to put stock in whether the Capitals are favored in this first round series against the Bruins.
“It doesn’t matter to us,” Laich said. “You guys can label what you want; we play the game on the ice. Labels are for you guys. It’s us against them and that’s where we leave it.”
Ovechkin also pointed out that if there’s any team aware of what a lower seed can do to a higher one, it’s Washington.
“I don’t think somebody can say who’s favorite who’s not, it’s the playoffs,” Ovechkin said. “Last couple years everybody thought we gonna be undefeated and it’s going to be easy for us in the playoffs. We lost. It’s situation right now, we don’t have to listen to [reporters], to fans what they say. We just have to concentrate and this group of guys have to be together for long time.”
More on the Capitals:
— Ovechkin-Chara could be key
— Caps will ‘push back’ vs. physical Bruins
— Can Holtby give a Cup-caliber performance?
— Poll: Capitals or Bruins?
— On Hockey: Caps have reason for optimism
— Twitter list of who to follow for the first round
— Complete first-round playoff schedule