Championship mettle now part of Capitals’ DNA

April 21, 2019 GMT

The Capitals one game away from moving on to the second round of the NHL playoffs and a showdown against former coach Barry Trotz’s New York Islanders are showing what NBC Sports hockey analyst Eddie Olczyk referred to as their “Stanley Cup pedigree.”

The Capitals can close out their first-round series Monday in Raleigh, North Carolina, with a Game 6 win after grinding the Hurricanes into the ice 6-0 Saturday at Capital One Arena.

That Game 5 performance was so dominant, so confident, that Capitals fans should stop for a moment to savor what it says about this franchise: This is who the Washington Capitals are now a team whose DNA is defined by a Stanley Cup championship.

That identity will likely diminish with time, but it will never disappear. This may seem obvious, but after 44 years of franchise history with much of the last several decades defined by choking, not championships it is worth stepping back and recognizing that the outside world, after last year’s championship run, looks at these Capitals differently.

The Capitals think of themselves differently as well.

After squandering a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series with back-to-back losses to Carolina including a tough-to-swallow 5-0 collapse in Game 3 the Capitals responded with their best hockey in some time to take a 1-0 lead in the opening period on Saturday, then going on to score two in the second and added three more.

“Tonight, we played some Caps hockey,” said Nicklas Backstrom, who has emerged as a scoring machine in the series, with two goals Saturday night and five for the series.

This wasn’t always Caps hockey. Nobody knows that better than Backstrom, who has sat in front of his locker season after season, distraught and disappointed when previous versions of the Capitals came up short.

That was then.

Now, in the face of adversity particularly the loss of T.J. Oshie for the rest of the playoffs this team now responds with championship mettle.

It’s who these Capitals are.

This is who they believe they are inside the Capitals locker room. This is who the NBC broadcasters believe they are a team with a Stanley Cup pedigree.

Does this guarantee a first-round series win Monday night in Raleigh? Absolutely not. As we have seen with the early exits of the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Tampa Bay Lightning, there are no guarantees in the Stanley Cup playoffs. But no matter the outcome of this series, the view of this team has changed inside and out.

“I thought that was pretty good response,” Backstrom said.

It is what these players now expect from themselves, and, based on what Olczyk said, it is what hockey outsiders expect as well.

“We just felt that we really hadn’t imposed our will and played the type of physical brand of hockey that we’re capable of,” Brett Connolly told reporters Saturday night. “We knew we had another level to get to. And that was a real strong point, was how we were able to respond in that aspect because I think it is something that makes our team special, is the ability to be able to execute high-end skill play but still be able to really physically be abrasive on the forecheck and then all over the ice and make it difficult for the opposition.

“So that’s much closer to how our identity needs to look.”

Identity. Pedigree.

People believe in the Washington Capitals. And they believe in themselves.

A familiar face who helped set the tone for that belief last season was in the building Saturday night for the first time in two months Devante Smith-Pelly, who was recalled from Hershey Bears after Oshie was sidelined. He, too, spoke of the response of this team after the Hurricanes evened the series.

“We went through the same thing last year, obviously, playing with key guys out,” he said. “I wasn’t surprised with our response at all. We saw it last year so it was expected.”

Now, since it is expected, of course, everyone wants to see it again including head coach Todd Reirden.

“That should be a pretty clear blueprint of how our game needs to look,” Reirden told reporters. “And if we want to have continued success, that’s the standard of how it has to be.”

It is the new Washington Capitals standard.

⦁ Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday and Sunday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast every Tuesday and Thursday.