Eyes on the prize for Caps’ opener

October 1, 2013
Alexander Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals prepares to face the Winnipeg Jets in their NHL preseason game during Kraft Hockeyville Day 2 at Yardman Arena on September 14, 2013 in Belleville, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)
Alexander Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals prepares to face the Winnipeg Jets in their NHL preseason game during Kraft Hockeyville Day 2 at Yardman Arena on September 14, 2013 in Belleville, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

Today in Chicago, the Washington Capitals’ clear objective will be staring them in the face.

Opening up the 2013-14 season against the defending champion Blackhawks, the Capitals will be in the presence of the Stanley Cup, which has eluded their grasp despite plenty of regular-season success and six straight postseason appearances.

Minus a few alterations, last season followed a familiar script. Under first-year coach Adam Oates, a revitalized Alex Ovechkin earned MVP honors and led the Capitals to their fifth Southeast Division title in six years, only to watch their season end in their fourth Game 7 home loss since 2008.

“You can’t say, like, ‘We’re going to win the Stanley Cup,’ ” Ovechkin said last week. “Of course, we would love to win the Stanley Cup. … We’re going to try to do it.”

Realignment has removed Washington from the friendly confines of the Southeast Division, where the Capitals regularly feasted on the dregs of the Eastern Conference, and placed them among former Patrick Division rivals in the brand-new Metropolitan Division with the likes of Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and the New York Rangers.

A good start is key. Washington was the NHL’s worst team through the first quarter of last season. The plentiful excuses that the Capitals had at their disposal at the time — a new coach, a new system, no training camp to implement those stylistic changes — are no longer there, nor is the Southeast safety net.

All things considered, Washington’s lack of postseason success is alarming, even more so when you see the tangible results of the other teams that have regularly challenged for a championship.

The Capitals are one of five teams to qualify for the postseason in each of the past six seasons. Three of them — Boston, Pittsburgh and Detroit — have won Stanley Cups in that span, while the fourth, San Jose, has reached a conference final, something the Capitals haven’t done in 15 years.

“We’re not looking to just get through the second round,” forward Brooks Laich said. “If we do that and we go home … after the third round, we’re not going home and patting ourselves on the back. The expectation within that locker room is to win the Stanley Cup.”

Today, the Capitals will experience the championship glow firsthand, and they can only hope this is the year that they finally bask in it.

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Marissa Payne | October 1, 2013