BY MELISSA ZIELINSKI
This week practice has been different for the Washington Capitals.
A little bit longer, a little more attention to detail and a lot more grueling.
And for good reason.
As the seventh seed out of eight spots in the Eastern Conference, the Capitals will have their hands full with the second seeded Boston Bruins come Thursday.
“It’s time to be more focused,” said Caps’ captain Alex Ovechkin. “Our line’s ready, everybody’s ready because it’s the playoffs.”
It’s obvious the burden of actually making the postseason has been lifted from the Capitals’ shoulders, but what about what lies ahead?
“It’s a great hockey team and it’s going to be a big challenge for us,” said second-year forward Marcus Johansson. “I think there’s going to be many tough games in this matchup.”
After struggling all season to mend the “wounded warriors” that left holes in their game plan, the Caps continue to work with what they have.
This time it’s an inexperienced net.
Goaltenders Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth, who’ve been sidelined with different lower-body ailments, remain very questionable for making appearances in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
This means that American Hockey League (AHL) Hershey Bears recalls Braden Holtby and Dany Sabourin have been left to man the Washington crease. The two have a combined two games of NHL playoff experience.
The Caps know it won’t be easy but “it’s not David vs. Goliath, ” said blueliner John Carlson.
“We need to be confident in our ability and what we can do as a team. That’s the best thing for us, is to play as a team,” said Carlson. “If you’re going to win, you’re going to have to beat the best teams no matter what and we certainly feel up to the challenge.”
Another “challenge” the Bruins pose for Washington is Boston’s toughness and grit.
“They’re physical, they have four good lines and they can really produce,” said Nicklas Backstrom.
Coach Dale Hunter seemed to counteract this strategy by having Brooks Laich center wingers Ovechkin and Troy Brouwer during Monday’s practice. The Caps also went full force on Tuesday during a full-team scrimmage that even got forward Joel Ward tangled up with netminder Holtby.
While sizing up the Bruins and gaining confidence in net will make the Capitals a stronger team, it’s only week one of “a long process and a very emotional process,” Brouwer said. “You can’t get caught up too early.”
The Caps’ just hope they can get through Game 1 and 2, which will take place at TD Garden in Boston. Many of the Caps have echoed each other in their “excitement” and don’t seem to be bothered by starting the first leg of their journey on the road.
“In the playoffs it doesn’t matter what arena you’re going to be in,” said Ovechkin. “It’s going to be loud and there’s going to be screaming.”
Hopefully, Washington will be able to silence the crowds by picking up the win in a visiting arena.