The Capitals wrapped up their regular season on Tuesday and now have their sights set on a second Stanley Cup. But, before we turn the page and turn our attention fully to playoffs, let's take a quick moment to appreciate this.
Appreciate what? Well, this.
In the coming days, the Caps-Boston Bruins series will be dissected ad nauseum. For some fans, the eternal hope of every postseason brings a sense of confidence. Surely there is no one better than this team, right? Why not us?
For others, fear and doubt will creep in and convince you that Washington has no shot at advancing and no shot at the championship. You will become almost sick to your stomach thinking about how the season could come to a close in as little as four games.
It's all that anxiety and nervousness is just so...fun.
It's compelling. It's must-watch. A playoff series always carries with it its own storylines that we will all enjoy following along. There's no guarantee of victory and the harshness of defeat can be shattering, but everyone has at least a chance.
This is the fun part of the year. The Caps have earned it and that's the part that we all take for granted.
It may not seem like it, but making the playoffs is hard. It requires a high collection of talent, the right mix of players for chemistry on the ice and in the locker room, great coaching, and the right amount of luck.
"You should never take anything for granted," head coach Peter Laviolette said. "It’s a hard league and the whole objective is to qualify to play for the Cup."
Washington fans by now should know why you can't take any sports success for granted.
Since 2007, the Caps have made the playoffs 13 times in 14 seasons, won 10 division titles, one conference title and one Stanley Cup. During that same stretch, the Nationals, Wizards and Washington Football Team combined for 14 playoff appearances, eight division titles, one conference title and one championship.
The Nationals have their World Series trophy (2019) and were NL East champs in 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017. But even they had seasons (2013, 2015, 2018) that were barely mediocre. The Capitals, who only missed the postseason in 2014, have made hockey fun to watch from the start of the season to its end and sustained that success year in and year out
But is this the kind of success players reflect on and feel satisfied with? Of course not. No one dreams of simply qualifying for the playoffs. They all have their hearts set on a bigger goal.
"I think for a lot of guys that's been here many years, regular season doesn't really matter that much," Nicklas Backstrom said. "It doesn't really matter if you're No. 1 or No. 4. If you're connecting in the playoffs and playing good as a team, I think that's what matters. Obviously all of us want to reach another goal. I feel like that should be our mindset. Regular season, yeah, great, we made our first goal, but playoffs, that's what matters."
But really, that dismissal of the regular season, in and of itself, reflects the level of success they have and the culture they have built there because of that success.
There is one reason to celebrate the regular season, however. Because qualifying for the playoffs is Step 1 in the quest for the Cup.
"I think you can never take that for granted so that's the first step you've got to accomplish to be able to compete for the Cup," Lars Eller said. "You've got to get in so we can checkmark that, but focus on next game."