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New-look Capitals use defense to get to 2nd round

Associated Press Modified: April 26, 2012 at 1:18 pm •  Published: April 26, 2012
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WASHINGTON (AP) — This hardly is the way Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals were expected to succeed when this roster was being put together.

Doesn't matter one bit, of course.

After year upon year of underachieving in the postseason, the seventh-seeded Capitals finally are overachievers: They're headed to the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs after getting past the Boston Bruins in overtime of Game 7, the first time in franchise history Washington eliminated the reigning Stanley Cup champion.

It's also the first time Washington won a Game 7 on the road. Indeed, they'd only been 2-7 in such winners-take-all contests anywhere.

"That wasn't pretty," Capitals owner Ted Leonsis said afterward. "That was beautiful."

What's changed is that Washington no longer relies on Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin and its other playmakers up front to carry them. Adopting new coach Dale Hunter's defense-first strategy, and with team captain Ovechkin spending plenty of time on the bench, the Capitals are winning ugly.

"I think winning any way you can is what playoff hockey is about," Leonsis said.

Sure took a while for that lesson to sink in.

Under previous coach Bruce Boudreau and his wide-open system, and with Ovechkin scoring seemingly at will en route to a pair of NHL MVP awards, the Capitals dominated during the regular season, then went home earlier than expected once the playoffs got going.

Four consecutive Southeast Division titles were nice, certainly, and so was that Presidents' Trophy awarded for having the most points in the standings.

But losing in the first or second round of the postseason to lower-seeded teams was not what Leonsis or Washington's fans were hoping for.

"There's been some frustration here in the past," forward Brooks Laich said.

This season, Boudreau was fired in late November and replaced by Hunter, who never was so much as an assistant coach in the AHL, let alone a head coach in the NHL. But as a player, Hunter did end two series with winning goals, so he knows what it takes in the pressure cooker of the postseason.

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