SUNRISE, Fla. — The final few minutes of Tuesday’s Game 1 for the Capitals went far beyond reasonable expectations.
Washington had just taken a one-goal lead over the Panthers, but held the league’s best offense to just two shots in the final seven minutes to slam the door on a 4-2 win at FLA Live Arena.
The Capitals played well in their series-opening win and assured themselves that they’ll have home-ice advantage when they head back to Washington for Game 3 on Saturday no matter what happens Thursday.
“The only thing we should take from Game 1 is that we played well and that we have confidence that we can play a good game for 60 minutes, and we can take that into Game 2,” center Nic Dowd said. “We’ve moved on and we’re ready to play Game 2.”
Of course it was just last year that the Capitals won Game 1 at home against the Boston Bruins in overtime before they lost the final four games of the series in a five-game playoff exit.
While that happened just a year ago, it’s not particularly on the minds of anyone in the organization at the moment.
“I think we have to focus on Game 2,” Washington coach Peter Laviolette said Wednesday. “We got a good opponent on our hands, I don’t think we should be clouding our head with things that happened with a different team and some different players in a different year from years ago. We need to focus on the present and stayed focused on our game and trying to get better in areas that we can get better and trying to put the pedal down on things that we were good at last night.”
There is, however, a legitimate point to be made that most of the pressure in the series has swung to Florida’s side after Game 1. The Panthers, the Presidents' Trophy winners this season with a bevy of offensive talent at their disposal, are in danger of falling behind 2-0 in a series that started at home. That, in and of itself, is enough reason for concern.
Only eight of the 34 teams that have been awarded the Presidents' Trophy for the league's best record have gone on to win the Stanley Cup in a sport where postseason success can feel arbitrary. The Capitals themselves have won that award three times since 2010 and never made it past the second round. Five times in the past 20 years the Presidents' Trophy winner has gone out in the first round.
Paired with the style of game that the Capitals played, which created quality scoring chances and prevented many for Florida, there are a lot of reasons for optimism on Washington’s side.
“At least for our team, I know when teams are doing something against us over and over and over, it becomes frustrating,” Dowd said. “You try and start to find different looks and get away from possibly what makes your team successful. Any system, that’s what you’re looking to do, is make other teams start to take chances and then you can pounce on those chances and turn those into offense.”
Should the Capitals pounce on a few more of those chances in Game 2, they’ll certainly to like their chances of putting the Presidents’ Trophy winners in a deep hole.