There was no dogpile in the dressing room. No champagne celebration. Not even a beer. Nothing.
The Washington Capitals have been here before. Many times, actually. It’s not that they don’t appreciate winning Metropolitan Division title after Metropolitan Division title like the one they wrapped up with a 3-1 victory over rival Pittsburgh on Sunday night.
It’s just that they’re tired of division banners being the only ones raised to the rafters.
Still, star Alex Ovechkin knows not all playoff runs are created equal. The group that skated off the ice at PPG Paints Arena after keeping the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions in check for three taut and occasionally chippy periods is not the juggernaut that rolled into postseason in 2016 and 2017 only to be sent home in the second round by Pittsburgh.
“We lost lots of players,” Ovechkin said after playing in his 1,000th career regular season game. “Guys in the locker room, experience guys. But different guys step up and they play different. ... We play as a team.”
One that hopes following a familiar script will lead — at last — to an unfamiliar ending.
Philipp Grubauer made 36 saves to continue his push to supplant Braden Holtby as Washington’s top goaltender as the Capitals won for the 10th time in 12 games to assure themselves of home-ice advantage through the first two rounds of the playoffs.
“We had a challenge there from the beginning (of the season) on,” Grubauer said. “We lost a couple experienced guys. We learned from our mistakes and we’re still learning. It’s nice to wrap that up, for sure.”
T.J. Oshie, Dmitry Orlov and Tom Wilson scored for Washington and Grubauer did the rest, including a spectacular glove save on Penguins star Sidney Crosby in the third period that served as an exclamation point on the kind of performance that would fit right in over the next two months.
“Last couple games we played in here weren’t too good, so it’s a momentum builder for us,” Grubauer said. “We have to make sure we play the right way next couple games. It’s going to be huge.”
The Penguins have the top power play in the league but went 0 for 5 with the man advantage. Patric Hornqvist picked up his 27th of the season late in the third period to avoid a shutout. Matt Murray stopped 31 shots but couldn’t quite match Grubauer.