Capitals ready to flip switch against physical Flyers
ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) When the Washington Capitals were coasting down the stretch, defenseman Matt Niskanen conceded ''it's hard to turn it on'' come playoff time. Capitals players talked about it then, what the intensity level would rise to when the playoffs start.
On the eve of facing the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round, the Capitals say they have put concerns about complacency behind them. It's no longer about manufacturing urgency but rather staying on an even-keel in what should be an emotional series.
''It's just making sure it doesn't get too high, making sure we're prepared and level-headed and focused going in instead of just (being) too excited just to be here that we start making mistakes out of excitement and overplaying situations,'' goaltender Braden Holtby said. ''Making sure we're ready, we're prepared to put a full, all-in effort in.''
While the Capitals clinched the Presidents' Trophy and home-ice advantage throughout before another Eastern Conference team clinched a playoff spot, the Flyers have been all-in for months. They needed to go 15-5-3 since Feb. 25 just to get into the playoffs as the second wild card in the East.
''It was tough, I'm not going to lie,'' Flyers forward Jakub Voracek said after clinching Saturday. "A lot of road games, a lot of tough games, a lot of skating, a lot of traveling. But you know, we dig in.''
The Capitals didn't have to dig in, yet they still went 11-6-4 since the trade deadline.
''You get concerned about habits that start to become evident,'' Washington general manager Brian MacLellan said. ''I think the challenge has been for the coaching staff to balance out where we were in the standings and still hold our team accountable to get us ready to be playing the right way at the end.''
The NHL's divisional format allows for plenty of opportunities for familiarity-breeding contempt, but even more so in this series because the Capitals and Flyers met March 30 in Philadelphia.
''Playing the Flyers a couple times in really that last month was very helpful for us just so you got a good feel,'' Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. ''I think it helps the players. It probably helps the Flyers, as well. I don't think there's an advantage one way or the other, but I think there's a comfort knowing what you're getting into.''
Some things to know about the Capitals-Flyers series:
LET'S GET PHYSICAL: These aren't the Broad Street Bullies, but Wayne Simmonds and the Flyers won't shy away from physical play. Philadelphia has a reputation for running opposing goaltenders, so Holtby understands what's coming his way. Washington isn't as big as it was in the 2015 playoffs without Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward, but forward Tom Wilson should being able to provide the muscle. If he keeps his head on straight, he can play on the same edge as the Flyers.
EXPERIENCE OF THE KINGS: The Capitals added winger Justin Williams and center Mike Richards, who won the Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012 and 2014, for this time of year. Williams and Richards are also former Flyers players who know all about the playoff intensity in Philadelphia. Williams and Richards have about as much combined playoff experience as Philadelphia's entire Game 1 lineup combined, so the Flyers are hoping to pick up the pace fast.
THE NOT-SO-FRIENDLY GHOST: Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere is the quarterback of the power play, and his offensive infusion changed the team's season when he was called up in the fall to replace the injured Mark Streit. Nicknamed ''Ghost,'' Gostisbehere brings a dynamic from the blue line no other player in the series has, and the Capitals' penalty kill will be tested. Washington only gave up multiple power-play goals in a game twice this season.
OVECHKIN THE THREAT: The last time the Capitals and Flyers met in the playoffs back in 2008, Alex Ovechkin had four goals and five assists in the seven-game series. Ovechkin is a more complete player now and coming off his seventh 50-goal season, so he's a threat to score on the power play and at even strength. The Flyers could just try to shut Ovechkin down and let Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov beat them.
SNIDER ON THEIR MINDS: The Flyers learned of the death of founder and owner Ed Snider on Monday morning at the age of 83 following a two-year battle with bladder cancer. Captain Claude Giroux said Snider ''is the Philadelphia Flyers,'' and the team will wear patches on their uniforms to remember him. The Flyers are dedicating the playoffs to Snider's memory.
AP Sports Writer Dan Gelston in Philadelphia contributed to this report.
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