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Some Experience Required

by Mike Vogel / Washington Capitals
Now that Washington’s 2008 foray into the Stanley Cup playoffs – its first in five years – has come to an end, many of the young Capitals can add the seven games worth of NHL playoff experience to their postseason résumé. Fourteen Caps saw their first ever Stanley Cup playoff action in 2008, and the experience of a long and difficult series should certainly be a strong organizational asset going forward.

Although the Caps went into their first round series with the Flyers without much in the way of cumulative Stanley Cup playoff experience, they weren’t as green as some were painting them going in.

“Watch our last 17 [regular season] games,” said forward Matt Cooke, obtained from Vancouver in a Feb. 26 deadline day deal.  “Those were postseason games for us, and there weren’t any easy games. We had some easy results, but it didn’t mean that we didn’t have to get up and prepare for them like a playoff game. The only difference now is that it’s seven games against the same team as opposed to a different team every night.”

And as veteran  Caps left wing Donald Brashear noted, playoff experience at any level is useful.

“Both of our teams have winners on their teams, no matter what level it was at,” Brasheard pointed out. “Some won the Cup in the minors and now these guys are up here. There is a reason they are up here; it’s because they learned how to win down there. 

“Now [Caps coach] Bruce [Boudreau] is here and he won down there. Same on their team; John [Stevens] is their coach and he won in the minors and he is up [in the NHL] now. They’ve got [Mike] Richards, [Jeff] Carter, [R.J.] Umberger. They’ve got all these guys and they’re the leaders of their team now. They’re the ones carrying the team. We’re two of the same type of teams and we’re both doing the same thing and trying to accomplish the same thing.”

Philadelphia accomplished what it set out to do in the first round, while the Caps fell just short. When the playoffs begin next season, the Caps will be a more experienced bunch for having battled through this seven-game set with the Flyers. But that’s not all the postseason and international experience these Caps have.

Here’s a look:

Goaltender Brent Johnson – All three Washington goaltenders have NHL playoff experience. Johnson got into two games in a relief role with the St. Louis Blues in 2001, and went into the 2002 playoffs as the Blues’ starter. He authored shutouts in each of his first three starts that spring, and helped push the Blues to the second round. Johnson is 5-6 lifetime with a 1.84 GAA and a .931 save pct. in Stanley Cup action.

Johnson has also played in 19 playoff contests at the AHL level and 10 more in the OHL.

Defenseman Brian Pothier – Pothier is one of the few Caps with previous NHL playoff experience, but he has been sidelined since early January and did not see action in the 2008 postseason. Pothier has two goals and three points in 16 NHL playoff games during three seasons with the Ottawa Senators.

Pothier also got into 14 AHL playoff contests, and played in 16 postseason contests in the IHL in his first year pro, 2000-01. Pothier helped Orlando to a Turner Cup championship that season.

Defenseman Tom PotiPoti has nowskated in six different Stanley Cup playoff series with four different teams, but has yet to get past the first round. He has picked up eight assists in 31 games overall.  Poti also has a dozen games worth of experience with Team USA in the World Junior Championships, and he played in half a dozen games for Team USA at the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Defenseman John ErskineAlthough he has played 221regular season games in the league, this was Erskine’s first taste of the NHL playoffs. He has nine games worth of AHL playoff experience over three seasons. Erskine went on a 25-game Cup run with London of the OHL in 1998-99 when his team was eliminated in Game 7 of the finals. Erskine played 16 playoff games the year before, giving him 41 games of OHL playoff experience.

Left Wing Alex Ovechkin Ovechkin has 21 games worth of playoff experience from his days in the Russian Super League.  Ovechkin has also logged 18 games worth of World Junior Championships experience(scoring 18 goals in the process), 29 games of World Championship experience (13 goals) and eight games worth of Olympic experience (five goals).

Right Wing Matt Bradley – Bradley now has 17 NHL playoff games under his belt. He also has 20 games of AHL playoff experience and 19 games of OHL playoff duty.

Right Wing Eric Fehr – Fehr totaled eight goals and 11 points in 19 games during the Hershey Bears’ 2006 run to the Calder Cup championship. He totaled 26 goals and 51 points in 60 WHL playoff games, and put up 16 goals and 32 points in 24 games in his final playoff year (2004-05) in the WHL.

Fehr got into five NHL playoff games this spring, and scored his first Stanley Cup playoff goal. He was returned to Hershey after the Caps were eliminated and played for the Bears in Game 4 of their opening round series with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Center Boyd Gordon – Gordon has won the Memorial Cup (2000-01) and Calder Cup (2005-06); he is the only Capital who can make that claim. Although he’s only 24 and hasn’t played in any playoff games at all in two of his four pro seasons, Gordon has played in 107 playoff games in six playoff runs dating back to juniors, going deep into the postseason four times.

Right Wing Chris Clark – All 26 of his NHL playoff games came in the spring of 2004 when the Calgary Flames went all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals. Clark also played for the 2001 Calder Cup champion Saint John Flames. Clark has a total of 25 games worth of AHL playoff experience, and he also has logged half a dozen games playing for Team USA in the World Championships.

Center Nicklas Backstrom Backstrom has appeared in 22 playoff games in his native Sweden.  He has also played in 13 World Junior Championship games and 13 World Championship contests. After a sluggish start, Backstrom was one of the Caps’ best players in the last several games of the 2007 Stanley Cup playoffs. He scored a goal in each of the last four games, and each of those goals was Washington’s first of the game.

Center Brooks LaichTotaled eight goals and 15 points in 21 games during Hershey’s 2006 run to the Calder Cup championship. Also played in six playoff contests with AHL Portland in 2004. Laich totaled 10 goals and 27 points in 30 career WHL playoff contests. He led Seattle in playoff points (19) and assists (14) in 2003. Laich also has six World Junior Championship games to his credit. He finished this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs with a seven-game scoring streak, the longest of his career.

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