On Tuesday morning several Capitals players said they didn’t give much thought to the possibility of playing the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the playoffs.
“Yeah, we’re always trying to lay some groundwork here and put doubt in teams’ minds,” Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner said after the Caps’ 3-2 win over the Penguins Tuesday night at Verizon Center.
“This is one of those teams you really want to put down if possible. They’ve done a good job against us the last couple years. It’s nice that we can finally be on top. We haven’t met in the playoffs in a while, so it’s nice if we do get them at some point, to know we got some wins this year.”
The Caps have not faced the Penguins in the playoffs since 2009, when the Caps won the first two games of the series, only to fall in Game 7 in a 6-2 rout.
Only Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Jay Beagle remain from that team, but don’t be mistaken, these Caps don’t like the Penguins, whom they’ll face two more times before the post-season.
“It’s probably more heated than most games I’ve played since I’ve been here,” said Mike Richards, who has 32 points in 45 career games against the Pens. “You feel it in the dressing room, the energy before the game. It was the same way in Philly. It was easy to get up for Pittsburgh and it’s no different here.”
Capitals coach Barry Trotz said he “absolutely” brought up the possibility of facing the Penguins in the post-season in his pre-game talk, but they didn’t seem to get the message in the first half of the game. The Penguins recorded the first seven shots of the game and owned a 2-0 lead 3:45 into the second period.
“We couldn't string two passes together today,” Trotz said. “We're going to have to readjust our alarm clocks or whatever. If we don't get that corrected, I mean, that's got to come from within. I've tried for a while, all year basically, so I'm putting it back in the room. I'm throwing it on them.”
The Caps have allowed the first goal of the game in 15 of their last 18 games but they’ve dominated opponents in third periods by an 82-49 count.
“One time it’s going to bite us in the butt,” Richards said. “Especially come playoff time, you don’t want to start slow.”
With 20 games remaining in the regular season the Capitals (46-12-4) have built a 24 –point cushion on the Penguins.
“It feels good to beat those guys for everybody in the room,” said Matt Niskanen, a former Penguin. “The big thing is we can’t coast right now. We’ve got to keep pushing to get better. You can’t have mental lapses when you’re not into it physically.
“We talk about it a lot and it hasn’t come to fruition at the start of games but the best characteristic we have on this team this year is we’re resilient and we play to win and that’s a good characteristic.”
MORE CAPITALS: Winnik arrives in Washington ready to learn on the fly