The Washington Capitals overcame adversity when it came to playoffs pairings this postseason.
With Round 1′s matchup against the Boston Bruins, the Caps showed just how different of a team they were from Day 1 of the 2011-12 season.
Being able to knock off last year’s Stanley Cup champions is the epitome of change to come. And that change was the fact that the NHL would have a new Stanley Cup champion.
So the test continued into Round 2: the No. 1 seed New York Rangers.
Seven games and seven hard-fought battles later their destiny was laid out. It wasn’t meant to be, just yet.
It’s hard to flip a team in five years. It’s even harder to do so in two. But to scrap the plan that Bruce Boudreau laid for the team, hire a new bench boss in Dale Hunter, and to make a run for perfection is asking for a lot.
And the Capitals delivered their all. It also appears they’ve found a new goalie in Braden Holtby. But, most importantly, beside the difference-makers, there’s an overall change in the atmosphere in Washington. And that change is the team identity.
The sometimes selfish, often unfocused and occasionally downright demoralized Caps of the past four postseasons have, apparently disappeared. Instead, the Capitals have coped with the gradual aging, injury and erosion of some of their brightest stars and have adjusted on the fly — made a midcourse correction, one of the most difficult tasks in sport.
Although the Capitals had a slight statistical advantage entering Game 7 in terms of special teams, and a few individuals who looks promised advancement in the playoffs, the Rangers have shown why their revamp over the offseason is product of unity over a course of the full season. That’s something the Capitals have not had the ability to do: Play unified for the full season.
But they made up a lot of loss opportunities. While Alexander Ovechkin performed his least-productive season with 65 points, Washington doesn’t need to live up to the expectations of one man.
“Yeah. It’s a terrible feeling now,” the captain (Ovechkin) said. “All I can say, we did our best and it’s probably the best team I played [with].”
Ovechkin’s comments brings the season full circle. The once heavily-focused Russian franchise player is just part of a great team these days. Expect that team identity to carry on next season.