Washington Capitals join list of first-round upset victims in NHL playoffs

The top-seeded Caps fall to No. 8 Montreal, 3-2, in overtime in the playoff opener.
By Gene Wang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 16, 2010

Less than a week after accepting the Presidents' Trophy in a pregame ceremony at Verizon Center, the Washington Capitals watched the opening night of the NHL playoffs on Wednesday, and the results got their undivided attention. One night later, they joined the list of upset victims.

Three of the higher-seeded teams lost Wednesday, including the San Jose Sharks, the top seed in the Western Conference, to eighth-seeded Colorado. New Jersey, the second seed in the Eastern Conference, lost to No. 7 Philadelphia, and reigning Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh lost as a No. 4 seed to fifth-seeded Ottawa.

"I watched them all, or tried to watch all of them," Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau said following Thursday's short morning skate. "It's one of the reasons I'm happy to play Thursday when you see what happens on the Wednesday. There's 16 good teams, and you'd better be ready."

With the league's best record, the Capitals assured themselves home-ice advantage throughout the Stanley Cup playoffs, but players had said they couldn't count on simply playing at home to deliver a victory in Game 1 against No. 8 seed Montreal. That point became all too clear Thursday when the Canadiens captured a 3-2 win in overtime, adding to the list of opening-game upsets.

"It's the playoffs, and every team has a chance," captain Alex Ovechkin said before Thursday's game. "It doesn't matter what spot you take."

Washington entered the postseason playing some of the best hockey in the league. It won five in a row before losing in a shootout to Boston, 4-3, in a virtually meaningless final game of the regular season. Only personal milestones were at stake, most notably Ovechkin's pursuit of the Art Ross and Rocket Richard trophies. Ovechkin finished without a point and did not win either award.

"I'm not angry about personal awards," said Ovechkin, who finished second in both overall points and goals. "I want the team awards."

A veteran's advice

Capitals right wing Mike Knuble, 38, has been among the most valuable offseason free agent acquisitions, and not just for his production on the ice.

Knuble has plenty of playoff experience, and as the only player on the team to have won the Stanley Cup, he has been leaned on by teammates for guidance during this most important time. The advice that has resonated the most is to keep from looking beyond the task at hand.

"Our guys have learned a lot the couple of years," said Knuble, who finished with 29 goals. "Again, you can talk all you want about the future and everything, but you're not going anywhere until you get out of the first round. "

A postseason first

Although Washington and Montreal are meeting for the first time in the playoffs, the teams have played 139 times during the regular season. That's the most the Capitals have played any team they had not encountered in the postseason.

It's also just the second time Washington has played a Canadian team in the playoffs. In 1998, the Capitals defeated Ottawa en route to the Stanley Cup finals.

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