“This is it…make no mistake where you are…This is it…your back’s to the counter…This is it…don’t be a fool anymore” – Kenny Loggins
The Stanley Cup Playoffs begin for the Caps on Thursday, April 14th at 7 pm from the Verizon Center against the Philadelphia Flyers.
They are finally here.
The Washington Capitals organization and their fans have been waiting for this day to come since Derek Stepan’s puck went past Braden Holtby into the back of the cage in overtime of game 7 last spring, on May 13th, 2015.
334 days ago, to be exact.
I remember the frustration, anger, and pain that came immediately afterwards. It’s a feeling long time Caps fans know far too well.
My first tweet immediately, once that shot went in, was simple and to the point.
“Why must the Capitals always lose this way?”
It was agonizing for all who are emotionally invested in this team, to include the players and the entire organization.
But as that night progressed and the group healing began on Twitter, we all really knew, that the despite the bitter loss, this team was extremely close to much bigger things. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, Jason Chimera, Karl Alzner, and many others had taken their game to new levels under Coach Barry Trotz and his excellent coaching staff. GM Brian MacLellan had rebuilt the defense in the summer of 2014 to continue to help turn a ship around that began steering in the right direction with the hiring of Coach Trotz.
For once a crushing Capitals season ending didn’t feel like an end all be all, once the analytic side of everyone took over.
MacLellan, the very next day, then said what everyone was thinking.
“We need to improve our top six forwards group.”
It was as transparent and refreshing of a statement as you could hear from the man calling the personnel shots. But saying it and then completing it are two entirely different actions.
But Mac pulled it off, landing Justin “Stick” Williams in free agency and then getting T.J. Oshie in a blockbuster trade with the Blues.
They were brilliant moves in July of 2015.
After those additions I felt, and then blogged before the season began, that on paper, this was the best Caps team ever.
The Presidents’ Trophy winning 2015-16 regular season, where the Caps were NEVER defeated back to back in regulation contests, confirmed just that.
Along the way MacLellan and Trotz added to the deck bringing in two time Stanley Cup Champion Mike Richards, in another amazing move that stabilized the bottom six forwards and penalty killing unit.
Kuznetsov continued his rise towards the NHL’s elite. Tom Wilson improved his game as both Coach Trotz and GM MacLellan had stated they needed after the loss to the Rangers. The Caps would then develop such a great standings points lead that they were able to manage their roster and ice times down the stretch so that it could be as healthy as ever entering the most important season.
That time is now here.
The playoffs are a totally different animal. The space on the ice is limited and the game is extremely physical and fast.
You have to play through your opponent.
It’s a shift by shift, period by period, game by game, and series by series struggle.
You must stick together as a team and play smart.
Discipline is paramount and you have to remain focused on and off of the ice.
So now the table is set.
The past stings for the Capitals organization, but now they have a great chance to change all of that.
It’s all there for the taking.
This is it!