As the Capitals push for the playoffs, Dylan Strome is leveling up

As the Capitals push for the playoffs, Dylan Strome is leveling up

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

Dylan Strome has never been to the Stanley Cup playoffs. Technically, he played in the bubble playoffs with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2020, but the Blackhawks lost in the play-in round, and Strome doesn’t count that experience, either way.

This year, though, Strome and the Washington Capitals are closer to the postseason — the full-scale version — than the 27-year-old center has ever been before. And Strome, who set a new career high with 25 goals after scoring twice, including the overtime winner, in the Capitals’ victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday, is a key reason Washington is still in the chase.

“He’s just such a gamer,” Capitals Coach Spencer Carbery said. “He wants to win so badly. You can feel it when you talk to him. You feel it on the bench. It’s not about him. It’s not about his own individual stats, goals, assists. He wants to score so badly because he wants to win.”

Strome began the season on a hot streak, but his scoring numbers had dropped off in the second half of the season. Until his two-goal game Tuesday, he had just two goals in the month of March — while contributing 13 assists, so it isn’t like Strome had gone completely cold. But for a player who expects as much from himself as Strome does, especially at a critical time of the year for the Capitals, he wanted to be doing even more.

“It’s a lot of fun to play,” Strome said. “Everyone wants to thrive in the big games and play games that really matter. It feels like that right now.”

Against the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday, Strome played a season-high 25:06, tallied three assists and scored the shootout winner to cap a frenetic, roller-coaster game that swung wildly throughout the night. And though Strome was 0-of-9 in the shootout in his career, including 0-of-4 this season, before stepping up in the fifth round that night, he was adamant on the bench that he wanted Carbery to call his name.

When Carbery addressed the team in the dressing room after the game, he compared Strome, and his desire to step up in the biggest moment of the night, to Michael Jordan.

“In shootouts, I’ve come to learn, he wants to shoot every single time,” Carbery said, chuckling, after Tuesday’s game. “If he hasn’t shot yet, we’re making eye contact every single time. That kind of goes to what you’re talking about. He wants to shoot. … Even if he’s missed three or four in a row, he’s looking back like, ‘I’m the guy. I’m going to score here and I’m going to win this game for the team.’

“As a coach, I love that, because you want people to want the ball — want the moment — when it’s tough. When the game’s on the line, when they can deliver, you want people that aren’t shying away from that, and Dylan Strome is a prime example of that.”

With the Capitals now two points clear of the Red Wings for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference, with 11 games remaining in the season, Washington is starting to feel confident about its chances at returning to the playoffs. Strome has done just about everything he can do over the last week to help the Capitals get there — and get his own taste of the postseason for the first time since junior hockey.

“I think he’s been one of our best players. I think that says it all,” center Nic Dowd said. “If you’re going to come and play and be consistent nightly and be relied upon to be offensive, and you’re producing and you’re doing a good job at it, I think that speaks with how much he cares about the situation that we’re in.”

Since arriving in Washington, Strome has set — and then exceeded — his career-high mark in goals, and he’s on pace to exceed last season’s career high point total of 65. When Strome signed with the Capitals, he said he just wanted “to be wanted,” and now, he’s an integral part of Washington’s playoff push, delivering in the biggest moments.

“It’s special, for sure,” Strome said. “Growing up, being from Toronto, [I was] always fortunate to be on really good teams growing up in minor hockey. And then in the OHL, we had four really good teams and really good years, always made it to the conference finals or finals. Obviously hasn’t worked out in the NHL so far for getting to the playoffs, but it feels like hopefully, this is the year.

“We’re right there. We control our own destiny.”

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