There were no players wearing goggles and theme park ponchos in the Capitals dressing room following Monday night’s Presidents’ Trophy-clinching 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets at Verizon Center.
“There’s not going to be a champagne party or anything like that,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “I think there’s a sense of fulfillment that we said we were going to do some things and we’ve accomplished them so far, and we still have some things we’ve got to accomplish.”
With 113 points the Caps clinched the best record in the NHL with seven games remaining, the earliest a team has clinched the top spot in the NHL since 2002.
Only two of the last 12 and six of the last 25 Presidents’ Trophy winners have gone on to win the Stanley Cup, but that doesn’t mean the Caps are about to give away the Presidents’ Trophy, which carries a $350,000 award.
“I’m excited about it,” said Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen, who picked up a pair of assists in the win. “I haven’t won a whole lot. It’s a heck of a year by the guys so far and it’s something we should be proud of. It’s nothing to just let go by without talking about it. It’s a nice accomplishment but we all know we’re playing for something more.”
T.J. Oshie said that while the players are proud to win the Presidents’ Trophy, they also have short memories. The last time the Caps finished with the best record in the NHL with 121 points in 2009-10, they lost in Round 1 to goaltender Jaroslav Halak and the eighth-seeded Canadiens.
“We know how hungry this town is for playoffs and we’re right there with them,” Oshie said. “We want our game to be in tip-top shape in seven or eight games.”
More than anything, the Capitals’ healthy lead in the Eastern Conference standings – they are 18 points ahead of the Rangers – has allowed them to rest players with nagging injuries or illnesses. Defenseman John Carlson was pulled from the lineup and given 13 games to allow his lower-body injury to heal and Oshie sat out a pair of games over the weekend with the flu.
“If it was playoffs I maybe don’t miss a game,” Oshie said. “But because we put ourselves in this position I’m able to rest and John’s able to make sure his ankle is fully ready to go before he comes back.”
MORE CAPITALS: Trotz calls out Orlov after win over Blue Jackets