It’s tempting to say that the Washington Capitals first round defeat of the New York Islanders exorcizes demons of previous failures. In all honesty, it would be hard to fault any Caps fan if they felt that way. The Caps entered play Monday night 2-7 in Game 7s and 1-4 in the Ovechkin Era. So if you want to believe in putting ghosts back in their place, who am I to judge?
For me, I remember the Easter Epic like it was yesterday. What happened at the Verizon Center on Monday night, no matter how joyous or exciting, can exorcize that indelible memory from the recesses of my cranky brain.
But it matters not. For the joy of this Game 7 win should be taken on its own merit. It doesn’t need to carry the weight of any past failures with it. These Capitals, the 2015 version, have earned the right to let their work stand on its own. Winning is better, of course. But these Caps have come a very long way from the futility that last year’s version displayed.
And funny, it’s with many of the same players who were criticized for allowing the team to miss the playoffs.
Sure, they bolstered the defensive corps. They brought in an experienced goalies coach. Shoot, they brought in an experienced head coach for the first time in franchise history. It worked. For all the years that the national (Canadian) media said the Caps didn’t or couldn’t play “playoff hockey”, well, guess what? Those same types are singing the praises of Barry Trotz and the return of “heavy hockey” to D.C.
You have to hand it to Trotz, a guy with a ton of experience but not much playoff success of his own. The Caps played this series for the long haul from the very beginning. He bet that if the Caps big, strong, tough forwards continued to pound on the smaller and quicker Islanders defensive corps, it would pay off in the long run.
It’s unfortunate that the strategy worked so well as to remove two of those smaller, more frail players from the series, but what are you gonna do? That’s playoff hockey.
And it should sound familiar. It’s what teams have been doing to the Capitals for the bulk of the Ovechkin Era.
But no more.
The Caps may or may not be able to get past the New York Rangers, a very familiar foe in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Rangers are big, fast, talented and strong, built very much like Trotz’ Caps. Obviously, they bring into the series one of the world’s elite goaltenders.
But the Caps will answer with a squad that’s big and tough in its own right, with a quality goalie of their own. And now, they also have the knowledge that they can win playing this way. Trotz’ way.