The Washington Capitals finished with the best record in hockey this year and enter the playoffs with a No. 1 seed. They’re a popular pick to win the Stanley Cup, but first they need to advance to at least the conference finals – something they haven’t done since 1998.
Still, Washington feels good about its chances, largely because of Braden Holtby, who finished second in the league in goals against (2.07).
“Goaltending is everything in this league,” Caps winger Daniel Winnik said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “I think everyone points that out all the time, and Braden – nothing against all my previous goalies that I’ve had – but Braden is by far the best goalie that I’ve had the pleasure to play with. He’s just very steady back there, very calm, and he’s got ice-cold nerves. He’s never out of position, never gets super frustrated – that’s what you need to win games. You need a guy like Braden between the pipes.”
The Capitals have lost in the second round in each of the last two seasons, but Winnik insists the team isn’t haunted by past failures.
“I don’t think we talk about it,” he said. “It just seems to be much more of a media narrative. But we’ve never focused on it in the room. . . . I think sometimes it just happens with match-ups. I think this year we understand the challenges that come in the second round. We’re going to face the second- or third-best team in the league if we win the first round, so we’re prepared for that this year.”
Winnik, 32, has played for seven NHL teams, but his time in Washington stands out.
“They give you defined roles here, and everyone understands what their job is,” he said. “I’ve been on teams where there have been a lot more moving pieces for the lines. Since I’ve come to Washington, I’ve pretty much played with the same combination of two guys. Jay (Beagle) and I played primarily together since we’ve been here last year, and Tom (Wilson) was added on our line for the playoffs last year. We’ve been aligned this whole year, and (there’s) very little movement going up and down throughout our roster. I think that’s just made a world of difference for myself.”
Washington (55-19-8) hosts Toronto (40-27-15) in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series Thursday at 7 p.m. ET.