WASHINGTON — Before the Washington Capitals closed out the 2016-17 regular season with a 2-0 loss to Florida, they already knew when, where and vs. whom they would play again: Thursday at 7 p.m., at the Verizon Center vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs.
News broke during the second intermission of Sunday’s game, after the Columbus Blue Jackets defeated the Leafs in regulation, clinching the higher seed.
This is the first time that the Caps have ever faced the Leafs in postseason play and marks a critical series for a team with huge expectations. The Leafs are in the position the Caps found themselves in many times before, with a young talented team.
Alex Ovechkin understands that the Caps need to use that to their advantage.
“We just need to play our game, our style of hockey. Try to use our home ice advantage right away,” he told reporters after the game. “They’ve been fighting for that spot the last six or seven games. We have to use our advantage.”
Washington has struggled to protect home ice in the playoffs before, but enters the postseason with a red-hot record at home. They finished the season 32-7-2 at the Verizon Center, marking the franchise record for home wins in a season.
The Capitals finish the season with a 55-19-8 record, marking the second-most wins and third-most points (118) in a season in franchise history. By tallying 55 wins in two straight seasons (2015-16: 56, 2016-17: 55), the Caps join the Montreal Canadiens (1975-78) as the only teams in NHL history to win 55 or more games in consecutive seasons.
They accomplished this feat with historic scoring, 238 points in the last two seasons, marking the most points in two straight seasons since Montreal recorded 244 points from 1977-79.
The Caps also enter the postseason armed with the best defense in hockey, as Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer allowed only 182 goals. They were awarded the William M. Jennings Trophy for the second time in franchise history (1983-84).
At this point, no regular season accolade will help if the team can’t win vs. the Leafs.
“Experience only helps if you use it in the right way,” Holtby said bluntly after the game. “Hopefully, we’ll do that.”