BOSTON The Capitals heart-thumping, nail-biting 2-1 overtime victory against the Boston Bruins was more than just a springboard into the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
It was validation for the hard-nosed defensive coaching style of Dale Hunter, a style that often came into question during a regular season that nearly ended with the Caps out of the playoff picture.
What we were doing before didnt work, Capitals owner Ted Leonsis said, so you have to try something different. We didnt know if this system would work.
We got through the first round. We did that last year. So theres relief and joy but theres a lot of work left to do. Ill think we improved over last year if we can get through the second round. Thats the goal, to do better year after year and this system seems to be the right system to play in the playoffs.
To have seven one-goal games and four overtime games, this certainly was the best, most competitive series since Ive owned the team.
The Capitals have lived to play another day because as a team they have bought what Hunter has been trying to sell them since he replaced Bruce Boudreau in late November and installed a team-first, me-second philosophy.
Were playing more defensively, Caps general manager George McPhee said, and now its paying off.
Leonsis says the new-look Capitals might not be as pretty as the old version but if it means winning in the playoffs, hes willing to sit on the edge of his seat every night.
That wasnt pretty, that was beautiful, he said. I think winning any way you can is what playoff hockey is about. Its always one mistake, one turnover.
I think theres a lot more discipline and dumping the puck and sacrificing the body and doing all the little things. But Ill be honest, when we took the penalty to Jason Chimera with two minutes left I thought, Oh, gosh. That would be such a terrible way to end the series on the power play. But in overtime anything can happen and Mike Knubles a pro.
Thanks to a bulrush by Knuble and a rebound goal by Joel Ward not to mention a swing and a miss by Patrice Bergeron earlier in the overtime the Capitals will get to see if Hunters style of play will be good enough to beat their next opponent, whoever that may be.
Ill take as many series victories as we can get, Leonsis said. The Boston franchise is just a class organization. No team deserved to lose this and were blessed to have won, but thats a great team over there.
Leonsis said he doesnt look as the Capitals regular season as a disappointment, only as the means to an end.
I dont think its been a rough ride, he said. We made the playoffs and thats our goal every year. Weve learned it doesnt matter where you end the season as long as you qualify. Look around. Vancouvers out, Pittsburghs out. Some of the great teams. So its an honor to move on.