Caps wary after last season's early exit

Washington's Mike Knuble, right, celebrates a goal with

Washington's Mike Knuble, right, celebrates a goal with teammate Alexander Ovechkin last month. (Credit: AP)

ARLINGTON, Va. -- The Washington Capitals have just wrapped up their fourth consecutive division title, yet they have only one playoff series win to show for it. Every year, they enter the postseason saying they've learned their lessons from the previous year.

What exactly are those lessons? That's a matter often up for debate.

This week, as the top-seeded Capitals prepare to open their first-round Eastern Conference series against the eighth-seeded Rangers, it's worth noting the comments made at the end of the 2010 debacle against the Montreal Canadiens, when Washington became the first No. 1 seed to be eliminated by a No. 8 after holding a 3-1 series lead. Several players implied the problem was leadership, that the team didn't play as hard as it could because it figured that regular-season intensity would work just fine in the playoffs.

Scott Walker and Joe Corvo, who were on their way out the door as unrestricted free agents, had the most biting words, but perennial Capitals forward Matt Bradley was equally searing when he said: "To not be ready for a playoff game shouldn't happen. We didn't work hard enough."

Monday, after the first practice before Wednesday's Game 1 against the Rangers, veteran forward Mike Knuble had a response: guilty as charged.

"If anything, last year they were humbled here," said Knuble, who Monday signed a one-year extension to return for a third season in Washington.

As team captain, Alex Ovechkin bears much of the responsibility for making sure the team is ratcheting up its A-game for the playoffs. "We all learn from last couple of years -- what we did wrong, what we did not wrong," Ovechkin said.

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