Caps face Canadiens, but can't help but think about larger goals
The day after the playoffs ended for the Washington Capitals last May, Brooks Laich invited teammates over to his house before all the players and trainers met up for drinks and sushi in Georgetown. The overriding feeling after the Game 7 loss to the Penguins? "I can't believe the season is over already," the Capitals' veteran winger said.
Nearly a year later, on the eve before the NHL's most potent team began a playoff run that only ends good for them if they raise the Stanley Cup in June, Laich was asked about whether the Capitals were ready to settle unfinished business.
"I guess people can say that, but it feels like a different season," he said. "As far as unfinished business, yeah, maybe for all of us here last year. But this is bigger than that. It's about the fact that no Caps team has ever won the Stanley Cup.
"It's about this team going farther. You want to break records, you want to do things that no team has done before, set individual and team records no one else has set. We're aiming to be separate from anybody."
They're gifted, focused, and for the first time in forever, favored to win it all. Alex Ovechkin and most of the main characters return. But General Manager George McPhee has infused his team with role players who understand that, in the playoffs, it is better to be gritty than pretty.
And Bruce Boudreau let his players know, in the team's final full practice before taking on eighth-seeded Montreal on Thursday night in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference first round, the importance of putting away opponents earlier than later.
"Of the last eight Stanley Cup champions, all of them had at least one five-game series," the coach said above the practice ice Wednesday afternoon. "Going seven games all the time does not make it easy on you if you're going to win the Cup."
Translation: Take care of the Canadiens and get some rest before a possible rematch with the defending champion Penguins in the second round.
Game 1 comes with great anticipation for one other reason: When it comes to every other major professional sport, there is no postseason around here.
If you've checked anything but the NHL standings lately, you know Washington isn't very good at big-time sports. The Redskins, Wizards and Nationals have all finished in the cellars of their respective divisions the past two years. It has been bad, very bad.
Bingo callers given headsets.
The Earps and the Clantons playing the feud in the Wizards' locker room.