Perhaps pinning the same hopes and expectations that existed heading into this season on this team — the one that survived the 2011-12 campaign rather than dominated it — isn’t realistic or fair as the Washington faces the defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins, who are an intimidating foe by any measure. But don’t tell the Capitals that.
They might have gone off script, and they may be considered underdogs in the first round for the first time in at least four seasons, but that doesn’t mean they have any intention of settling.
“First round isn’t a success. Second, third round is not. The Cup is success,” defenseman Karl Alzner said flatly. “The third round would be getting closer to success, but a lot of the same guys have been here for a while — at least the same core of guys, and those guys are all fed up with bowing out after the first, second round. It doesn’t matter if the team is at the top of the league or finishing in eighth; it’s all the same. There’s no success for any of us unless we win.”
This spring marks Washington’s fifth consecutive postseason appearance, but it’s the first time the team has entered as a lower seed in that stretch and the first time since 2008 it hasn’t finished among the top two seeds in the East.
The Bruins are the ones who occupy the role of heavy favorites — and understandably so, even if Alex Ovechkin disagrees with the labeling.
“I don’t think somebody can say who’s favorite [and] who’s not, it’s the playoffs,” the Capitals’ star left wing 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.”
Boston’s advantage on paper stems from having the bulk of its championship roster return from a season ago. The Bruins boast the same depth that wore down opponents and helped win three seven-game series in 2011. Not to mention that reigning Vezina and Conn Smythe winner Tim Thomas will man the Bruins’ net, while unproven rookie Braden Holtby will make his first NHL postseason appearance for Washington.
To clinch the seventh seed, the Capitals won five of their final seven regular season contests with their most consistent hockey to date under Coach Dale Hunter. In this matchup against a confident Boston squad, they’ll need more of that composed all-around game.