The Washington Capitals can now add another notch to their belt in 2009-2010.
The professional hockey team, boasting the NHL’s most impressive record this season with a franchise-best 51 wins and 114 points, has garnered another distinction as of April 5, 2010: The Presidents’ Trophy.
Although the Caps clinched the Eastern Conference regular season title last week, and their third straight Southeast Division crown and playoff berth a few weeks before that, their most recent achievement was not altogether a shoo-in.
With their Western Conference rivals Chicago and San Jose earning 100-plus point records each as well, and with Washington in a recent three-game slump, momentum could have shifted to any of the three teams in order to win the regular season accolade.
Yet again, there was no imminent threat. The other two teams were close but had no cigar.
Also in favor of the Caps, Washington went on a modest two-game winning streak, beating the Atlanta Thrashers and Columbus Blue Jackets last week, which put the pressure back on the Blackhawks and Sharks.
The Sharks, with a few more points than the Blackhawks in the West, were trying to inch closer to the Caps point-wise with four games remaining. But they could only muster one point in the standings Sunday night, due to a 5-4 overtime loss to the Colorado Avalanche.
Since 1985 (except during the 2004-05 lockout season), the NHL has awarded the special prize of the Presidents’ Cup to an NHL team that gained the most points during the season (based on the most number of wins). Multiple trophy collectors include the Detroit Red Wings (six), Colorado Avalanche (two), and the Wayne Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers (two).
The Caps are doing well in several other categories this season, with the most goals scored (301), the largest goal differential (plus-79), goals per game (3.80), the highest power-play percentage (25.4 percent), the highest plus-minus (plus-67), the best home and road records (28-5-5 and 23-10-7, respectively), and two of the top five scorers (captain Alex Ovechkin, 102 points; Nicklas Backstrom, 92) in the league.
Unfortunately, this trophy is considered a bad omen: Only seven out of the 23 trophy-holders have captured the more important honor (the Stanley Cup), with the last dual Cup-Trophy winner being Detroit, which beat Pittsburgh in Game Six two years ago.
However, last year’s trophy winner, San Jose, with 117 total points, failed to advance the Western Conference quarterfinal match against Anaheim, and was thus sent home in six games.
The recipient of the Presidents’ Trophy receives $350,000 and is given home-ice advantage throughout all four rounds of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs, if it can successfully reach each round.
With a team again sailing through the regular season as it did last year, with one of the league’s most exciting players in Ovechkin and more than five players scoring at least 20 goals, many hockey fans will surely be glued to see if the Caps are healthy, deep, and focused enough in the playoffs to become victorious in June like the Red Wings were in 2008.
Or sink like the Sharks did last spring against the Ducks.
Note: The Caps have four more games left in the 82-game regular season, as they face the Boston Bruins at home Monday night, Pittsburgh on the road Tuesday, Atlanta at home Friday, and close the season with another game vs. Boston at home next week Sunday