There have been many stories and numerous statistics thrown around in breaking down the Washington Capitals – New York Rangers first round Stanley Cup Playoff series that starts on Wednesday night at the Verizon Center (CSN at 730 pm). Almost all of them are very good and on point, but to me there is only one number that matters: 350.
Because on Wednesday that is how many days have elapsed since the Montreal Canadiens eliminated the Caps in game seven in the first round of the 2010 NHL post season. It is precisely how long this team and organization have had to wait for a shot at redemption. The 2009-10 Washington Capitals were the sensation of the league running away with the Presidents’ Trophy by playing an exciting and fast paced brand of hockey. All of that adulation and praise came to a screeching halt roughly two weeks later and there is no doubt the sting from that playoff defeat has been a motivating force for the Capitals as they seek to avert another first round loss, and more importantly, attempt to win their first Stanley Cup.
It seems that everything this organization has done this year has been focused on the post season. General Manager George McPhee made that abundantly clear back in early October on Media Day at Kettler IcePlex and the change in style to become a more responsible defensive squad that was rolled out by Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau in December and implemented ever since has been totally geared towards being more successful in the playoffs. The acquisitions of defensemen Scott Hannan and Dennis Wideman and forwards Jason Arnott and Marco Sturm were all about helping to put the Caps in the best position to win the Stanley Cup this spring. Unfortunately, Wideman will not play in round one due to his leg injury (hematoma).
The shot at redemption, however, doesn’t come without strings. There is an enormous amount of pressure on the Caps with most of that focused on Alexander Ovechkin and Boudreau. Noone wants to lose as the number one seed in the first round in consecutive years or get labeled as post season phonies. The naysayers and the negativity are all out there and you don’t have to look hard to find it, if one wants to.
That is where we come back to that 350 number. Each and every Capital needs to try and remember that awful and painful feeling they felt when the horn sounded defeat on April 28th, 2010 and use it as a motivating factor. They need to do everything in their power to not get to that point again here in 2011. That means being focused on every shift and not letting up if they get ahead and not panicking if they fall behind. They have to trust that all of the hard work and preparation they have endured for the last 350 days will help to pay dividends this spring.
Simply put, the Caps have to realize that sticking together and working as hard as they can starting with shift one and not letting up, is the only way they will succeed in the post season. Playoff hockey is all about determination, playing your system, and finding a way to reach a higher level. There is never a time to look ahead or relax, something this club has been guilty of in the past. They have the experience and the proper system now to get it done, so to me the determinant for success mostly comes down to mental toughness. They need to be mentally tough to not let outside issues distract them, listen and implement what their coaches are telling them, and most important of all, they have to focus on the process, not the results. The process is very simple, play the game properly one shift at a time. If the Caps can stick to that process then everything else should take care of itself and we won’t be talking about that number 350 anymore in mid June.