The Capitals’ thrilling seven-game playoff victory over the Boston Bruins last spring will be remembered for many things.
For Braden Holtby it was a chance to prove himself as a goaltender capable of handling the pressures of knocking off a defending Stanley Cup champion.
For Joel Ward, it was crashing the net to jam a Mike Knuble rebound under Tim Thomas in overtime of Game 7 for the biggest goal of his career.
For Alex Ovechkin it was engaging in a seven-round cage match with defensemen Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg.
But for defenseman Karl Alzner, the Capitals’ seven-game victory over the Bruins served as something more. It was proof that if the Caps bought completely into a system – especially a system that required them to block shots – they could prove themselves capable of beating anyone.
“No one expected us to get past that series and we battled,” Alzner said Monday as the Caps prepared to face the Bruins Tuesday night at VerizonCenter.
“They weren’t going to walk through us and get a win. It was tough. I think when a team plays that hard I think everybody respects that a lot.
“That was the best we played. We played perfectly, pretty much. We did all the right things. We were sacrificing. Guys were hurting after the game. That’s when you know you’ve done your job, when you’re gassed and you’ve got ice bags all over you. That’s an honest effort. Those are the games everyone enjoys going home after -- win or lose.”
Each of those seven games between the Caps and Bruins were decided by one goal. Four of them, including Game 7, went to overtime.
“It was long,” Ward said. “There were a lot of ups and downs, a few overtime games, and it was fun. It was a hard-fought series and some big collisions our there. I know Ovi ran into them a few times and vice versa.”
Playing on the left wing last spring, Ovechkin was matched up against Dennis Seidenberg for much of that series and their battles were epic. Now that he’s on the right side, Ovechkin will butt helmets with 6-foot-9, 255-pound defenseman Zdeno Chara.
“They’re strong guys, the toughest D in the league,” Ovechkin said. “When you do something well you appreciate it. Seidenberg made some big hits on me. Chara is always a great battle. He’s a tremendous athlete and it’s very nice to play against him. To make a move on him it’s nice because he’s so big and tall and strong.”
The Bruins have rebounded nicely from their first-round playoff exit. At 14-3-2 they have the fewest regulation losses in the East and are tied with Montreal for the NHL’s best goal differential at plus-15.
The Caps are coming off Saturday’s 3-0 win in Winnipeg, which improved their record to 6-3-0 in their last nine games. Three of those six wins have been shutouts by Holtby, who improved is record to 7-7-0 and lowered his GAA to 3.01.
Asked what he remembers most about his first Stanley Cup playoff series last spring, Holtby said, “We won. It was a battle and the atmosphere in both buildings was outstanding. It was a lot of fun, but it’s in the past.”
Ward agreed, saying the Caps have a lot more work ahead of them if they hope to even get into the playoffs this season.
“I was fortunate to get a good whack at a puck last year and if I can create a few more chances [Tuesday] that would be great,” Ward said. “We’ve got a lot at stake, too, because we’ve got to get as many points as we can.”