After losing Game 7 at home to Pittsburgh last season, Washington coach Bruce Boudreau
was asked how close he thinks his team is to joining the elite.
"We're very close and maybe all it is a little bit more maturity in some areas and I think we'll be able to make that step," Boudreau said after the disheartening, anticlimactic 6-2 loss. "Next year … I would be very disappointed if we weren't in the final four."
Boudreau may want to amend that statement. Saying it may come off as too brash and too cocky, but he has to be thinking that he would be very disappointed if the Capitals don't win the whole darn thing this season.
They can, but not only because they have the League's most exhilarating player in Alex Ovechkin
, one of the best playmakers in Nicklas Backstrom
, a net-front presence like Mike Knuble
, a dangerous blue-line threat in Mike Green
and overall the most lethal offense in the game.
"It's our experience," Green told NHL.com.
Veterans with playoff resumes like Knuble, Brendan Morrison
, Eric Belanger
, Scott Walker
and Joe Corvo
were not around D.C. last season. More importantly, the Caps' core has learned what it takes to win in the spring over the past two seasons.
Two years ago, in a seven-game series loss to Philadelphia, they figured out what the playoffs are all about. Last season, after playing back-to-back, seven-game series against the Rangers and Penguins, they figured out how important it is to get off to a good start.
Washington dropped three of the first four games to New York before taking the series in seven. They blew a 2-0 series lead to the Penguins and needed an overtime goal from David Steckel
in Game 6 to force a Game 7, but by then they were out of gas.
"If we're going to win the Stanley Cup we're going to have to not go to Game 7 every time," Green said.
If the Caps get off to a good start in the first round, maybe even win the series in four or five games, they'll figure out what fresh legs can do for them in the second round. If they can get to the Eastern Conference Final, they'll start to smell something special in the air.
That's usually when they become invincible.
"It just seems that this team doesn't believe it can lose," Eric Fehr
told NHL.com. "I think that's great going into the playoffs that if we can keep this confidence we know can come back from anything."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl