ARLINGTON, V.A. — The Washington Capitals are charting into somewhat unknown territory to kick off the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs — and they’re embracing the challenge.
Over the last eight years, Washington has been one of the top seeds heading into the postseason thanks to three Presidents’ Trophy titles in the 2010s and multiple division championships. However, adversity and inconsistencies throughout the 2021-22 campaign have turned the tables on the Capitals, who were the last team in the East to clinch and ended up as the second Wild Card seed going into the playoffs. As a result, they will go toe-to-toe with the No. 1 Florida Panthers, who are arguably the toughest opponent in the East.
Florida captured its first-ever Presidents’ Trophy this season and will face off against Washington for the first time in postseason history. The Panthers are a major favorite, but the Capitals aren’t letting the circumstances get into their heads.
“We’ve been there. It’s going to be totally different games than the regular season,” captain Alex Ovechkin said. “Obviously, they have a very solid group of guys. Best team in the regular season. But in the playoffs, it’s going to be different. It’s going to be different mindset, it’s going to be different speed, it’s going to be a different battle level.”
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Washington went 1-1-1 against Florida in the regular season, with all of those games coming back in the month of November. The Cats not only finished with the best record but also have an impressive arsenal that features Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov and Sergei Bobrovsky, along with new acquisitions Claude Giroux and Ben Chiarot, along with an almost-healthy Aaron Ekblad.
“We’ve played teams like that in the past… we’re going to want to stay structured, we’re going to want to stay focused. Playoff hockey is a little different, it’s usually tight-knit, work for your offense, play hard defense. I mean, we haven’t played them that much,” Tom Wilson added. “This is obviously a new Panther team. They’re playing really well, they’re the best in the league right now. So we’re excited to get down there and get started and try to make some noise and take Game 1.”
Looking at the roster and differences between both clubs, as well as similarities between this year’s Florida team and the Capitals of years past, Nicklas Backstrom said that seeding won’t make much of a difference. Ultimately, it’s the in-game action that will decide the series.
“I think something you realize when you’re a little older, I think it doesn’t matter where you’re seeded,” Backstrom noted. “Everyone’s in the playoffs, anything can happen. So I think just knowing that and going into this, as of right now, the series is tied. Obviously, we believe in ourselves, and we’re going to do everything we can to win the series.”
“Nobody believe us, you know, that we are going to beat them. Whole team have enough experience and we know how to win,” Orlov added. “It’s important and we’re going to be focused on our game.”
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Wilson agreed and wants to see Washington hold itself to a high standard of play and put adversity or excuses in the rearview.
“Obviously, in the season, there’s been tons of ups and downs, there’s been a lot of guys in and out. But I’m excited about this group. I’m excited about being fully healthy and having everyone in there in their right spot and ready to go,” Wilson said. “It’s something that, if you’re hitting your stride and you’re playing well and you’re playing with confidence, it doesn’t really matter where your seed is in the playoffs. You’ve got to be ready to go.”