WASHINGTON — When Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals stand together saluting their red Stanley Cup banner, as it is hoisted skyward by ropes, legs will be bouncing in the visiting dressing room.
The opposing players won’t be on the ice, gritting their teeth. The ceremony won’t be on a TV in the room. Maybe they’ll hear the intermittent roars of the crowd puncturing silence.
Washington’s long-awaited Cup victory led to a lengthy summer of public celebration and leaguewide attaboys, but it all ends Wednesday night with one last stretched-out ceremony. The Bruins happen to be there. After a second-round exit in last season’s playoffs, a five-game struggle against the Lightning after a seven-game opus against the Leafs, they will wait out the Capitals, then try to knock them out of their dream world and into this year.
“We’ll have a couple extra minutes, 15, 20, 30, to get dialed in,” Charlie McAvoy said. “I think we’re all super excited about it. You get the chance to go there and try and spoil their night.”
The Bruins’ 2017-18 season, however successful, left a sour taste in the mouths of some in Black-and-Gold country. The season was a flash of potential. Young up-and-comers McAvoy, David Pastrnak, and Jake DeBrusk blended with cagey core players Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and Zdeno Chara. They added a key piece (Rick Nash) at the deadline. They went 50-20-12 and earned 112 points, ranking sixth in goals per game, fourth in goals allowed, fourth on the power play, and third in penalty-killing.
But injuries — to Nash, defensemen Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo, DeBrusk and Bergeron, among others — were a primary culprit in their second-round exit.
It’s why coach Bruce Cassidy isn’t concerned that his team lost an underrated contributor, third-line center Riley Nash, while Chara, Bergeron, and the rest of the core celebrate another round of birthdays. He’s uninterested in dwelling on how good Tampa Bay looks in every facet, how the Leafs’ addition of John Tavares could make their offense otherworldly, how Florida’s fine cast of forwards could finally push them toward a playoff run.
If he’s buying into the conventional wisdom that the bottom half of the Atlantic — Buffalo, Detroit, Montreal, Ottawa — will be miserable, he’s given no indication.
He’s focused on the Capitals, who return 18 of the 20 players who dressed in the Cup Final, including their incendiary captain, Ovechkin, his running mate Nicklas Backstrom, goaltender Braden Holtby, and big-ticket returnee John Carlson (eight years, $64 million).
Aside from backup goalie Philipp Grubauer, the only major departure was behind the bench. Coach Barry Trotz left for the New York Islanders, unable to come to an agreement on a deal. Assistant Todd Reirden was promoted, leaving questions about the day-to-day management of the squad. Until proven otherwise, however, they are the champs, and the favorite to win their fourth straight Metropolitan Division title.
Maybe the hockey Wednesday will be uneven, with the Capitals still in hair-of-the-dog mode, and perhaps missing widely disliked forward Tom Wilson, who has a 10 a.m. hearing with the NHL’s player safety department for his latest questionable hit. The Bruins will be missing power-play quarterback Krug (left ankle) and Bergeron will be knocking off the rust in his first game back after groin surgery.
Big picture: Cassidy said the Bruins will be in good shape if they “carry through on what we did” last year, he said. “I think we need growth from our guys from [their] first year into the second year. We need good health . . . Clearly every year there’s teams that get better and some regress, so we can’t worry too much about them. Take care of our own business.”
The DNA of the last Bruins Cup winner, 2010-11, is in the blood of Chara, Bergeron, Marchand, David Krejci, Tuukka Rask, defenseman Steven Kampfer (a call-up then, now 30, reacquired via trade this offseason), and Cassidy, an assistant in Providence at the time. It is in some of the front office, including team president Cam Neely.
Neely reflected on the young players Cassidy coached in Providence, like Pastrnak, who lost in the first round to Ottawa two years ago. He saw Pastrnak, who scored 34 goals that season and 35 last year, become a dominant player last spring.
He hopes his comrades will follow the lead, write their own story, and raise their own banner.
“Preseason is over,” goaltender Jaroslav Halak said. “Now the fun season starts.”