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Washington Capitals bounce Philadelphia Flyers, move on to take on high-flying Pittsburgh Penguins

PHILADELPHIA -- Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin stood stoic at his locker, knowing the question was coming.

With a 1-0 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 6 of their first-round Eastern Conference series Sunday at Wells Fargo Center, the Capitals advance to the second round to face the rival Pittsburgh Penguins and Sidney Crosby. It will be only the second time Ovechkin and Crosby have faced each other in the Stanley Cup playoffs. In the spring of 2009, the Penguins defeated the Capitals 4-3 in the semifinals and went on to win the Cup.

On Sunday, Ovechkin wasn't prepared to relive the past. When asked what he remembers about that series against the Penguins and Crosby, Ovechkin responded, "Nothing."

What do you think of the upcoming series?

"It's going to be an interesting series," he said. "It's going to be a hard series with two good teams playing against each other. We'll see what's going to happen."

Speaking of the past, the Capitals are fed up with answering questions about past postseason meltdowns. They've been answering those the past few seasons, especially after losing in the second round to the New York Rangers in 2015. Washington even faced criticism after surrendering a 3-0 lead in this series when the Flyers forced Game 6.

Realistically, unless the Capitals earn a series win over the Penguins and reach the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 1998, this team will continue to be asked about the past. This is the eighth time in the past nine seasons the Capitals have reached the playoffs, but they have failed to reach the conference finals in that span.

"We've been saying it all year: It's a different group," said Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby, who earned his 20th career playoff victory on Sunday. "That past was a different regime, basically a different team completely. A few same players, but we're trying to write our own history."

That mantra has been a rallying cry for the Capitals the entire season: "Stick to the Script" and "Entitled to Nothing."

"We're a different team," said defenseman Karl Alzner. "We've got a lot of guys that have really good character, really good experience, and that's not what we're thinking. I know a lot of people are thinking when they see the same uniform on the ice all the time, but it's different people, different heads, different ways we handle the pressure and we've done a good job all season of that."

When Barry Trotz took over as coach before the 2014-15 season, he got a team of talented individuals to buy in to a system that has worked. After last spring's disappointing exit in the second round, the Capitals regrouped, acquiring a couple of veterans -- Justin Williams and Mike Richards -- who had been major contributors on past Cup-winning teams. Everything came together nicely, and the Capitals finished this season as Presidents' Trophy winners with 120 points.

Against the Flyers, the Capitals displayed that leadership and poise they have missed in the past.

"We've come a long way from last year," Trotz said. "When I first stepped behind the bench, I felt that there was a little bit of nervousness in tight games. We've come full circle where we're comfortable being uncomfortable when the games are tight. We've got some quality people. We've gone through a lot of that, and we don't have to win the game 5-1. We understand every game can be won in different ways, and sometimes it'll be wide open and we'll play that way, sometimes it can be very physical and we're capable of that. And sometimes you're not going to get much and you have to be patient.

"That's where we've grown the most, in patience and poise with our team in the last two years."

The upcoming challenge will be a completely different animal for the Capitals. Crosby & Co are playing their best hockey of the season. Pittsburgh's been one of the best teams in the league since December; it steamrolled the Rangers in the first round.

"Both fast teams, it's going to be a great series," said Flyers LWJakub Voracek. "I don't know if I'll watch because I need to rest up a little bit, but it's going to be a great series, two very good teams. Pittsburgh's playing well from what I saw the last few games. I'm not going to say who's going to win, who's going to lose, it's too bad it's not us."

The hockey world has been waiting for another postseason showdown between Ovechkin and Crosby and it has finally arrived. Buckle up, folks.

"It should be a lot of fun," Alzner said. "They're hot right now. They were hot at the end of the season. I watched a lot of their series and they were good, scoring a lot of goals. It's going to be a serious test."

Related Video
Caps blank Flyers, win series in six
Caps blank Flyers, win series in six
Nicklas Backstrom scores the lone goal in the game while Braden Holtby makes 26 saves in Washington's 1-0 win over Philadelphia to capture the best-of-seven series 4-2.

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