The Capitals clinched the Presidents’ Trophy — awarded to the team with the most points during the NHL’s regular season — for only the second time in franchise history on Monday with a 4-1 win over Columbus. It’s the earliest a team has clinched home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs in 14 years.
Don’t expect much of a celebration; Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom sounded like someone who would much rather win a trip to the dentist than the Presidents’ Trophy when asked about the honor at Monday’s morning skate.
“It’s good to have home-ice advantage through the playoffs, but at the same time, it doesn’t even mean anything because we lost last time in the first round when we won the Presidents’ Trophy,” Backstrom said. “For me, it’s just a matter of getting to the playoffs. The teams, one through eight, can beat anyone.”
Backstrom and several of his teammates know that all too well. The only other time the Capitals finished with the NHL’s best record — in 2009-10 — they indeed lost in the first round of the playoffs, to the No. 8 seed Montreal Canadiens. The Capitals didn’t exactly speak glowingly of winning the Presidents’ Trophy that year, either. “That would be something new for this organization and for our guys,” Alex Ovechkin said before a San Jose loss clinched the league’s best record for Washington in early April. “But it’s not a big deal. We want to win the big trophy.”
There’s no correlation between winning the Presidents’ Trophy and the “big trophy.” Only two of the last 12 and six of the last 25 Presidents’ Trophy winners have won the Stanley Cup. The 2009-10 Capitals were one of four Presidents’ Trophy winners in the last 10 years to lose in the conference quarterfinals.
Still, winning the Presidents’ Trophy is an impressive accomplishment and clinching it with seven games remaining in the regular season is a testament to the Capitals’ historic dominance this year. Washington clinched in its 75th game; that’s the fewest games needed to clinch in a full 82-game regular season since the 2001-02 Red Wings did it after their 74th game. That Detroit team went on to win the Stanley Cup.
Here’s a look at when the last 15 Presidents’ Trophy winners clinched and how they fared in the playoffs:
The Capitals join 10 other D.C. teams in the four major pro sports that finished with the best regular season record in their respective leagues. Only two of those 10 teams went on to win a championship, so Backstrom’s probably right — the Presidents’ Trophy doesn’t mean much.
Playoffs: Lost NBA Finals to Seattle.
1974-75 Bullets (Tied with Celtics)
Playoffs: Lost NBA Finals to Golden State.
Playoffs: Lost Eastern Conference quarterfinals to Montreal.
Playoffs: Lost National League Division Series to St. Louis.
Playoffs: Lost World Series to N.Y. Giants.
Playoffs: Lost World Series to Pittsburgh.
Playoffs: Won Super Bowl against Buffalo.
Playoffs: Lost Super Bowl to Los Angeles Raiders.
1982 Redskins (Tied with Raiders)
Playoffs: Won Super Bowl against Miami.
Playoffs: Lost NFL Championship to Chicago.
(This post was updated to add the 1982 Redskins, who tied the Raiders for the best strike-shortened regular season record in 1982.)