Caps say they're contenders

Caps say they're contenders
April 30, 2013, 3:45 pm
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(James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports)

Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner has heard all the talk.

How the Caps are the NHL’s version of the two-and-done club.

How they’ve gotten to the playoffs five straight years but haven’t reached the Conference Finals.

How their great regular seasons have been followed with playoff flameouts.

“Even when we were at the top of the standings everyone, especially the people on TV, were like, ‘Yeah, they’re a good team, but they’re not a playoff team,’” Alzner said.

“It’s always been doubted. It’s never been, ‘The Washington Capitals are the top dogs.’ It’s always been a question mark.”

So, Karl, how do you change those perceptions?

“You win,” he said. “You win the Cup.

“I think if you make it to the [Stanley Cup] Finals that’s a pretty good statement, but winning it is obviously the ultimate. It would be great to win the Cup and kind of laugh at people.

“It would also be nice, at least for me mentally, knowing that at the beginning of the season I thought we were going to be a Cup contender without a doubt. It would be nice to reassure myself.”

Listen closely and you will hear the words “Stanley Cup” quite often in the Capitals’ dressing room these days. Once happy to be playing in April and May, these Caps believe – really believe – they will be playing in June for the first time since last getting to the Finals in 1998.

 “You can’t be satisfied with where you are – ever -- unless you’re on top,” said right wing Troy Brouwer, the only player on the Capitals who owns a Stanley Cup ring. “For us, we’re happy with where we are at the moment. But we still want to be hoisting the Stanley Cup at the end of the season.”

Of course, going 15-2-2 down the stretch and winning their fifth Southeast Division title in six seasons might have something to do with the Caps’ unbridled confidence as they head into their first-round series against the Rangers.

“We have  had a lot of great regular seasons the past few years, but I think this team should have expectations, too,” defenseman John Carlson said. “We really want to win. Even if we get to the Finals it’s not a successful season if we lose.

“I think it’s the same around the league. I don’t think there are too many teams that go into the season hoping to make the playoffs. Everyone’s goal is to win.”

There is a difference, however, between wanting to win and believing you have the team to win.

Brouwer, who won the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010, said the feelings he has about these Capitals are very close to the ones he had about the Hawks three years ago.

“It was strictly confidence the whole way through,” Brouwer recalled. “We went into those playoffs feeling there was no team that was going to beat us if we didn’t want to get beaten.

“I feel we have that same mentality right now. We’ve been playing so good and we’ve beaten so many teams in so many ways.

“There are some teams when you’re hoping for bounces or you’re hoping their goalie’s off,” Brouwer admitted. “You may not have that confidence you need. But because of the way we’ve been trending all season long, we feel we’ve earned our spot here and we can beat as many teams as it takes to get to where we want to go, which is the Stanley Cup.”

In the opinion of Capitals general manager George McPhee, the Caps are already halfway there.

“Fourteen teams are out of the way; ours is still standing,” he said, “and we’re going to be ready to go.”