WASHINGTON — For the second time in the last seven seasons, the Capitals enter the playoffs as Presidents’ Trophy winners after running away with the NHL’s best record in the regular season.
But as the 2009-10 Capitals discovered, winning the Presidents’ Trophy doesn’t guarantee playoff success. In fact, only eight of the 28 teams to win the Presidents’ Trophy since it was first awarded after the 1985-86 regular season have gone on to win the Stanley Cup.
“I think the Presidents’ Trophy is a great reward and a great acknowledgment of having a great regular season,” Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan said this week.
“I think it’s important to acknowledge that everybody played well, we had good years, but it gets reset here — just like it did back [in 2009-10]. You start from scratch here. It’s a new season.”
While the 2009-10 Capitals fell in seven games in a first-round series against the Canadiens, MacLellan has been part of a Presidents’ Trophy winning team turned Stanley Cup champion.
Back in 1989, MacLellan joined the Calgary Flames in a late-season trade from the Minnesota North Stars. The Flames won the Presidents’ Trophy with a 54-17-9 record, but before their eventual Stanley Cup triumph, the Flames were nearly upset in their first-round series against the Vancouver Canucks.
“I think in ’89, which is a long time ago, we were heavily favored over Vancouver,” MacLellan recalled.
“They’d just got in the playoffs and it went to Game 7. And in Canada — that’s like a crisis. ‘You’re not beating teams four straight when you’re the best team in the league?’ It was intense. And it was important for us to take it one game at a time. And it went to Game 7 and we won in Game 7 [in overtime]. But there was a lot of pressure and a lot of outside noise.”
MacLellan said that a number of Flames veterans, including defenseman Jamie Macoun, kept the team loose as the pressure mounted. MacLellan said that veterans on the Capitals like Justin Williams could play a similar role this spring.
“There were a couple points where teammates, like a Williams, created a loose environment and it helped,” he said.
After eliminating the Canucks in seven games, the Flames swept the Kings in the Smythe Division Final, before beating the Blackhawks in five games in the Campbell Conference Final, and handling the Canadiens in six games in the Stanley Cup Final.
MacLellan had three goals and five points 21 games that postseason.