Ah, the good old days.
The Capitals are the hottest team in the NHL, winners of eight of 10. Alex Ovechkin is scoring at a torrid clip with 16 goals in his last 14 games and is tied for the league lead in that department. Washington is in its rightful and customary place on top of the Southeast Division.
Yet nothing is more responsible for the good old days than a bad memory.
"It doesn't matter if it feels that way, because it depends how it is in the playoffs," forward Nicklas Backstrom said after Washington's 4-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning Sunday, its fourth consecutive victory. "And we weren't that successful in the playoffs."
Backstrom is right. Those multiple Southeast Division championships and No. 1 seeds in the Eastern Conference didn't keep the Capitals warm at night after those first- and second-round exits from the postseason. But even now, there is little sense of nostalgia.
That 8-1-1 stretch? The Capitals needed it to become relevant again after an NHL-worst 2-8-1 start. Ovechkin's hot streak? He scored nine goals in his first 25 games as some wondered if his time as an elite player was running out. First place in the division? Washington just reclaimed that position for the first time this season last Thursday after leading the Southeast for the better part of four years.
The Capitals did not seize those team and individual accolades by force as they might have in the past. They earned them through sheer force of will simply because they had to to survive.
"The beginning of the year was pretty hard time for all organization," Ovechkin said. "Now we’re back on track and it’s good.”
Despite the Capitals' "one game at a time" mantra, the Southeast Division is theirs to lose as it crumbles around them and a playoff berth is within their reach. What once seemed improbable is now very much realistic, and the good old days are now for Washington.
"We've been playing good lately, so we've just got to make sure we take care of the regular season here," Backstrom said. "Hopefully, we can get a playoff spot and then I don't know if teams are going to be afraid [of us] or not. Hopefully."
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