Kevin Hatcher is entering his eighth Stanley Cup playoffs with the Washington Capitals, and the rugged defenseman says this season's team is the best.
"This is the deepest team we have had here," said Hatcher, who finished the regular season with 17 goals and 37 assists. "This team can do so many things. We are solid at every position. We have 12 guys who have scored 40 or more points, four good lines, more speed than in the past and a solid defense.
"This is the best-balanced team I've been on. Our defense can play offense and defense, and Don Beaupre has had a great year in the goal. Dale Hunter and Michal Pivonka are having career years. Our speed allows us to move the puck out of our end quickly. I really like this team."
Hatcher, 25, joined the Capitals as a rookie in 1985 and has been one of the team's most consistent performers since then. He has been solid on defense and a scoring threat on offense. Hatcher, 6 feet 4, 225 pounds, is the only Capital to have been an All-Star the past three seasons.
The Detroit native not only plays a regular shift but is also a mainstay on Capitals special teams -- penalty killing and power play -- which rank among the best in the NHL.
Washington will make its 10th consecutive playoff appearance, beginning tomorrow at 7:05 p.m. at the Capital Centre, with the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins providing the opposition.
The Capitals took the season series from the Penguins, 5-2.
"We can't take chances and get into a shooting match with Pittsburgh. They have too many guns," said Hatcher. "We have to play responsibly in our own end and not allow Pittsburgh, which has such scorers as Mario Lemieux, Kevin Stevens and Rick Tocchet, too many good offensive opportunities."
Last year, in the second round of the playoffs, Washington defeated Pittsburgh in the first game, then lost four in a row.
"This is a different season and we both are different teams," said Hatcher. "We can't worry about what happened last year. We have to focus on the present and get the job done."