Because they asked, What’s wrong with Alex Ovechkin? Because they asked, Is the Young Guns experiment a failure? Because they questioned the team’s will to win.
Because, as the Pittsburgh Penguins know, the quest for the Cup can be all about redemption.
It’s ironic that with all the questions and changes made to Washington’s organizaton this season, the Caps are, to a certain extent, right back to what’s been “normal” for the past few seasons: in the playoffs (let’s hope the similarity stops there).
“The end of the season, the identity of your hockey team is going to be revealed. If you deserve to be in the playoffs, you will,” Brooks Laich said after their win Thursday that also happened to clinch a playoff berth, thanks to a regulation loss by the Buffalo Sabres.
That’s not to say the team still doesn’t have some work to do (like get some kind of consistent production out of the power play), but if Thursday was a moment of truth for the Caps, there are a few realities to acknowledge:
First, Jay Beagle is a guy you want by your side when the chips are down. He started the scoring for the Caps early in the first and drew a Florida penalty also in the first to get the Caps one of the only two man-advantages they had all game. Karl Alzner, who trained with Beagle last year, said he’s seen Beagle over the course of the season be able to mentally let go of mistakes more than he used to, instead of beating himself up over it.
“He knows that his game is very important to this team, and I think that’s something that helps as well,” Alzner said.
Second, Laich knows what he’s talking about when it comes to making it into the playoffs. The Caps’ 4-2 win wasn’t the prettiest at times, and certainly was a microcosm of the roller coaster Karl Alzner invoked earlier when describing the team’s season. The most jarring moment was losing Michal Neuvirth, who had been playing lights out, to a lower body injury. Braden Holtby came off the bench, ended up allowing two goals, then eventually settled down for the win.
And that leads to the final point: the Caps’ goalies know right now how to get the job done, whether that means a score of 3-0 or 3-2.
There’s more game analysis in the video below, as well as an update on what the Caps’ first-round playoff experience could look like. And guest Ed Frankovic has unusual high praise for one guy on the Caps’ roster.