For the Capitals, only the Stanley Cup matters

Members of the Washington Capitals talk about the moment they realized they had made it to the NHL.
By Mike Wise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 8, 2010; 12:04 AM

Moments after Alex Ovechkin and his crestfallen team had been inexplicably knocked out of the Stanley Cup playoffs in the first round this past April, a counterintuitive thought came to mind:

Really, why did Ovie and the Washington Capitals have to finish with the most regular season wins in the National Hockey League?

What did that dumb Presidents' Trophy (given to the NHL team with the best regular season record) genuinely do for Coach Bruce Boudreau and his players, other than create expectations they weren't ready to deliver?

Home ice? Uh-uh. Melted by May.

Serving notice of their dominance with 14 straight wins in January and February? Nope. The Caps' litany of goal scorers became nullified by one hot goalie and a muck-up-the-middle Montreal club.

After speaking to Brooks Laich on Thursday afternoon, the day before another regular season began, it's now clear: One of the worst things that could happen to this team come April is to hoist another Presidents' Trophy.

"I didn't enjoy my summer because of the fact that we won a Presidents' Trophy," Laich said. "My summer was bitter and sour because we didn't win the Stanley Cup. [The best regular season record] is a nice feather in your cap; it is an accomplishment. It's not something that happens every day. But ultimately what does it get us at the end of the day? It didn't get us much."

Now if it happens, if the Capitals embark on another thrill ride between October and April and Ovie slams his torso into the glass after his umpteenth hat trick and the red continues to be rocked with as much fervor and euphoria as a year ago, great.

Take the trophy. Mount it in somebody's garage, maybe a team equipment manager's. But they can't let it define them in any way.

Personally, a seeding between Nos. 2 and 6 would be healthier for Ovie, Alexander Semin, Mike Green and some of the other young players who weren't ready for the heating up of NHL intensity that happens each spring.

That's a hard sell, of course, to Boudreau and a room full of players who have a very narrow focus about winning each game, each night.

But at some point, when you're running away with first place in one of the NHL's weakest divisions and you're headed to Atlanta on a lousy travel day in January to play in front of a lackluster crowd, Boudreau needs to address a question: How much better are his stars going to get that night? Do Ovie and the fellas really have to bring their A-game that night?

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