PHILADELPHIA -- Exhale, Capitals fans, your team was never as nervous as you were. Honest. Really. Yup.
If you believe what was being said inside a victorious visiting locker room at Wells Fargo on Sunday afternoon following the Capitals’ series-clinching 1-0 win over the Philadelphia Flyers, there was never a doubt the No. 1 seed in the East would beat the No. 8 seed.
Not even when the Flyers rallied back from an 0-3 series deficit to force a Game 6.
“We’ve been saying all year it’s a different group,” said Caps goaltender Braden Holtby, whose second shutout of the series improved his league-leading GAA to 0.84 and his league-best save percentage to .968. “It’s a different regime and a different team completely. We’re trying to write our own history.”
“We’re a different team,” echoed Caps defenseman Karl Alzner when asked if there might be fears about returning to Washington for a deciding Game 7.
“We have a lot of guys that have really, really good character and really good experience. That’s not what we were thinking. I know a lot of people see the same uniform on the ice all the time, but it’s different people; it’s different heads; different ways that we handle the pressure. I think we’ve done a good job all season with that.”
Alzner said the Caps’ dominance in Game 5, when they outshot the Flyers 44-11, was all they needed to know how this series would end.
“We see how the series is going, we feel the way it is in the dressing room and we don’t let outside distractions get in our way,” he said. “We knew that if we just played the same way we did last game and get pucks to the net, one’s gonna go in. We did a good job in the D zone after that and we’re happy.”
They should be. The Capitals were clearly the better team in their first-round series against the Flyers, especially on special teams, where they went 8-for-27 on the power play and an incredible 24-for-25 on the penalty kill.
Afterward, Capitals coach Barry Trotz called the penalty kill a “difference maker” in the series. But so was the Caps’ attitude after allowing the Flyers back into the series with losses in Games 4 and 5.
“Obviously. when you get to a 3-0 lead you know it’s going to be tough to get the fourth one,” said Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who led all skaters woith 29 shots and 28 hits. “They don’t give us any easy games. They won two games in a row and they feel pretty sure about themselves. We found a way.”
T.J. Oshie called a “great series” that he imagined was “pretty fun to watch.”
Capitals right wing Justin Williams, who had a relatively quiet series with two assists and a minus-4 rating, said he thoroughly enjoyed his first series-clinching game with the Capitals.
“You play for moments like this, feeling butterflies and just enjoying the fight,” hew said. “It’s something we love as professionals. It’s why we play the game. One series down.”
And the next one – a second-round date with the Pittsburgh Penguins -- should be even more nerve-racking than the first.