LOS ANGELES: The Washington Capitals will be aiming to shake off their reputation as postseason flops when the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup playoffs get under way this week.
The Caps have not progressed beyond the second round since they reached the Stanley Cup finals in 1998 but will begin the postseason brimming with confidence after a dominant regular season.
Washington finished a full 16 points clear of their nearest Eastern Conference rivals Pittsburgh, sealing their place in the playoffs well before last weekend’s final round of regular season matches.
Although the Capitals wound up their regular season with a 2-0 defeat to the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday, Washington were already looking to the playoffs having wrapped up home-ice advantage.
Capitals coach Barry Trotz rested several key players against the Ducks including 50-goal scorer and captain Alex Ovechkin, goalie Braden Holtby and Nicklas Backstrom.
“I feel fine,” Trotz said about his team ahead of the playoffs. “I feel that we’re geared up.”
Ovechkin has warned his team-mates to prepare for a new experience as they enter the high-stakes realm of the playoffs.
“You have to have luck on your side; you have to be healthy, and you have to be focusing one hundred percent, because the playoffs are totally different hockey,” Ovechkin said.
“Every game is like the last game. You have to give one hundred percent effort and be ready for that.”
The Capitals begin their campaign on Thursday against the Philadelphia Flyers, with Washington defenseman Karl Alzner insisting the seventh seeded team were capable of giving the Capitals a testing series.
“I think the matchup’s pretty good,” Alzner said of the Flyers. “They’ve got some really good depth, they’re a good defensive team and they’ve got some game-breakers.”
Flyers goaltender Michal Neuvirth meanwhile knows Washington well after spending eight years with the organization between 2006 and 2014.
“I’ve been there, and we had great teams for a few years,” said Neuvirth.
“We never could make it in the playoffs. Anything can happen in the playoffs. With the Islanders last year we made Game 7. But I think we’re going to be ready for them.”
Neuvirth meanwhile suggested Washington could feel the pressure.
“It’s playoffs,” Neuvirth said. “You’re motivated as much as you want, but obviously we’ve got a great team. It’s going to be a lot of pressure on them and it’s going to be a good series.”
Elsewhere this week, the reigning champion Chicago Blackhawks face a tricky series against the St Louis Blues with the first game taking place on Wednesday.
Western Conference leaders Dallas meanwhile travel to Minnesota on Thursday for their opening game.