The Washington Capitals are back in the playoffs for the 10th time in the last 11 seasons. On Thursday night they’ll begin their chase to the Stanley Cup in Game 1 of the first round against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Whether they’re young or old, all players and head coach Barry Trotz are excited for the playoff run ahead.
“I’m really excited. I think this is the best time of the year. Just everything around the games it’s just incredible. I’m really excited to get started here and start off against Columbus. It’s gonna be a good series, a very tough one, so we need to find our A game and play hard. It’s gonna be a lot of fun,” said Andre Burakovsky after Wednesday’s practice.
Burakovsky will be returning to the playoffs for the fourth time in his career, as will Tom Wilson (fifth if you count his call-up from 2013) and Evgeny Kuznetsov. While both aren’t long timers like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom or Jay Beagle each of them has witnessed plenty of past pain. From being 101 seconds away till being in the third round and blowing it to the Rangers to bowing out to their biggest rivals the Pittsburgh Penguins in each of the last two years.
T.J. Oshie is only in his third season in Washington but felt the sting of the last two playoff runs falling short. He talked about how hungry both he and this team is after practice on Tuesday.
“I think for me, every year that you fall short you get a little bit hungrier. At the time, it feels like you can’t want it any more and then you fall short again and somehow you want it more than you did the last time so I know for myself and I imagine from my teammates in here, that hunger is built over the years and you only get so many chances to make a good run at it and I think we have another good chance here,” said Oshie after Tuesday’s practice.
As for Trotz, he’s had the most playoff experience on his resume than any of the other players. Yet Trotz told the media on Wednesday that he is still excited about this time of the year.
“Anticipation. This is the best time of the year. Looking forward to it. For some guys, they’re gonna get their first full taste of the playoffs. They’re excited. The guys that have been there before, they’re excited. I’m excited. The playoffs start tonight. Obviously there’s some games tonight that will ramp up. You’ll see the intensity. I think guys are chomping at the bit to get going here,” said Trotz.
Those young players who will get that first taste of playoff hockey are Chandler Stephenson, Christian Djoos, Madison Bowey and Jakub Vrana, who just last year were playing in Hershey. After Monday’s optional practice Stephenson and Vrana talked about that excitement of getting their first taste of playoff hockey.
“It’s crazy. The whole year has been a dream come true. I’ve been soaking in everything with every day that goes by. It’s been awesome… I don’t really know what to expect. (I think) it’s just kind of what you see on TV and what is kind of the lead up… That’s gonna be a lot of fun. We’ve been playing playoff hockey and a playoff style game and it’s been good. Excited to get going,” said Stephenson.
“I’m very excited. It’s like a new season starts now. You’re just gonna get ready and make sure you’re 100% ready for games and just leave everything out there,”added Vrana.
Shane Gersich, drafted by the Capitals in the fifth round of the 2014 draft, was just finishing up his junior year of college hockey at the University of North Dakota. When that season concluded, he signed with the Capitals and is on the playoff roster. I’m sure his college buddies are jealous.
“It’s pretty crazy. I was just in college a few weeks ago now I’m gearing up for the playoffs. It’s an exciting time of the year,” Gersich said on Monday.
Getting past the second round has been the struggle for quite some time. Ever since the Capitals made it to their first ever Stanley Cup Finals in 1998, the team has struggled to get past round two. Trotz himself has never been able to do it so far while he was coaching both the Predators and now the Capitals.
“I’ve been in some tough conferences. I was in a conference with Detroit when they were loaded. That rolled into the Chicago days where they had their massive teams. I’ve moved over here and run into the Pittsburgh Penguins a few times so it’s just luck of the draw,” said Trotz.
Trotz’s teams the last two years had promise. Both of those lineups were stacked on paper and the regular season success led them to back-to-back President’s Trophies for the league’s best record. While the Capitals did capture the Metropolitan Division this time around, the race was much tighter and they had to earn it. The Predators took home the President’s Trophy this year.
“I know we’re not the favorite but come playoff time, as we know from falling off of being the top seed going in, anything can happen,” Oshie.
By Michael Marzzacco