NEW YORK -- On Feb. 14, after winning three straight games and posting their first winning streak of the season, the Washington Capitals appeared to be turning the corner following a horrendous start under new coach Adam Oates. The winning streak improved the team's record to 5-8-1 and while star sniper Alex Ovechkin was still looking to recapture his world-class scoring touch, it was the less-heralded Troy Brouwer who was leading the way in Washington.
In that season-turning three-game streak, Brouwer scored four goals, two of them game-winners. At that point, the Capitals still had one of the worst records in hockey, but Brouwer, who was traded to the Capitals from the Chicago Blackhawks in the summer of 2011, was doing his part to right the ship.
A month into the season, Brouwer was leading the team with seven goals and enjoying a bounce-back season after a disastrous 33-point campaign, his first season in the U.S. capital.
He would finish his season second on the Capitals with 19 goals in 47 games, one more than the 18 he scored in 82 games the previous season. He would also lead the team with five game-winners and, as the only player on the team to have won the Stanley Cup, has provided big plays in the Capitals' Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the New York Rangers.
"To me, he's one of our captains. He's probably been our most solid guy game in and game out," Oates said. "I put him in every situation. He's been reliable. I think he's had a terrific year."
Brouwer has indeed played in practically every situation, making him an invaluably versatile player on a team known more for star players like Ovechkin, Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom. Through most of the season, Brouwer has anchored the second line alongside Mike Ribeiro while playing on the power play and penalty kill. In the Capitals' opening-round series against New York, he scored a huge tying goal with 18 seconds remaining in the second period of Game 4 in New York.
Two nights later, he set up Ribeiro for the Game 5 overtime winner. Clearly, life in D.C. has gotten better for Brouwer.
Brouwer started his first season with the Capitals playing for coach Bruce Boudreau, who was fired in November, 2011. Boudreau's replacement, Dale Hunter, led the Capitals to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs before resigning last May. With Oates giving him more opportunities to step up, Brouwer has put his difficult first season in DC behind him. And it's paying huge dividends for Washington.
"Last year, we had a lot of different styles, as far as our systems went. Linemates changed quite a bit. This year has been more steady. I've played with two centerman, either Nicky [Backstrom] or Ribs [Ribeiro], all year long," Brouwer said prior to Game 6 on Sunday. "That familiarity is very easy to play with rather than jumping around from different roles. I was on a checking role for a little while last year. Oates has given me a lot more opportunities."
Brouwer may have been the Capitals' most consistent player when the team struggled early in the 2012-13 season. But that's not to say he went anywhere once Ovechkin recaptured his scoring touch and Washington suddenly became among the League's hottest teams heading into the postseason.
Ovechkin closed the regular season with 23 goals in his final 23 games, helping Washington capture the Southeast Division crown. Brouwer had 10 goals in that span, including three more game-winners. He would finish his bounce-back season second on the team to Ovechkin in goals, shots and power-play points. A striking turnaround from the player who finished the 2011-12 campaign with one goal in his final 19 regular-season games before scoring twice in 14 playoff games.
In a career season in Washington, Brouwer has contributed in every conceivable way. But with the Capitals looking to advance against the Rangers in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series Monday, the experience Brouwer gained winning the Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in 2010 may be his biggest contribution.
In fact, Brouwer isn't just the only Capitals player who has won the Stanley Cup -- he's the only Washington player to have played in the Cup Final.
"He's been there. He's gone through that grind. He knows what that means," Oates said. "His position on the power play is vital to us. He had some success early and he's carried it through the lineup all year."