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How bad did Dylan Strome want to make the NHL playoffs? Ask his brothers

ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — Dylan Strome was never good at losing, whether it was playing baseball in his front yard or stick hockey in the basement with his brothers. “He hated losing more than he loved winning,” younger brother Matt Strome said.
FILE - Connor McDavid, foreground, first overall pick; Jack Eichel, center, second overall pick; and Dylan Strome, third overall pick; pose for cameras during the first round of the NHL hockey draft, Friday, June 26, 2015, in Sunrise, Fla. Since being picked third in the draft nearly a decade ago behind Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel and ahead of Mitch Marner, Dylan Strome has yet to play in an NHL playoff game outside the 2020 pandemic bubble. That changes Sunday when he and the Washington Capitals visit the New York Rangers, fittingly at Madison Square Garden where he rooted on his brother Ryan in the 2022 postseason.(AP Photo/Alan Diaz, File)

ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — Dylan Strome was never good at losing, whether it was playing baseball in his front yard or stick hockey in the basement with his brothers.

“He hated losing more than he loved winning,” younger brother Matt Strome said. "He was never satisfied unless he won, and if he lost you would definitely know about it. I was on the wrong end of that a couple times.”

Strome won the Ontario Hockey League championship and the Memorial Cup at the junior level, was the third pick in the 2015 draft behind Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, bounced around as a pro, and up until now had only experienced the NHL playoffs in the 2020 pandemic bubble. He doesn't count that as the real thing.

“Losing in this league can wear on you a little bit,” older brother Ryan Strome said.

It wore on Dylan so much that he worried he was the problem and wondered if he'd ever play for the Stanley Cup again, through its true, grinding 16-team format. He will get that chance with the Washington Capitals when they face the New York Rangers in the first round, and Strome's play looking like a man possessed down the stretch is a big reason they beat the odds and made it.

“I feel like something just switched for him,” said Matt Strome, who is with the Hershey Bears, the Caps' American Hockey League affiliate. “A couple weeks ago he said he’d never been this close to the playoffs, and ever since then I could just see that he was blocking shots, he was finishing checks, he was skating really well. I think it’s really cool to see him just completely turn it on.”

Ryan, now with the Anaheim Ducks in his 11th NHL season, could see the desperation. He beams with pride at how Dylan, an offensive player who set career highs this season with 27 goals and 67 points, has rounded out his game to play winning hockey when it mattered most.

“I saw him on the ice at the end of the game (Monday) night protecting a lead and winning big faceoffs, and that’s part of his game that’s come a long way,” Ryan said. “He’s done a really good job. It’s been a great fit for the team and for him in Washington.”

Strome is in just his second season with the Capitals following stints in Arizona and Chicago. He signed a one-year, prove-it contract, earned a $25 million, five-year extension and has become an integral part of his new team.

The only thing missing was a playoff berth, not a handout like in 2020 when Chicago got into the playoffs as a 12-seed in an expanded postseason with 24 teams. Going into the regular-season finale Monday at Philadelphia, Strome had participated in Game 82 plenty of previous years knowing that was the end.

He expressed in the Strome family group chat the feeling that this time it wouldn't be the last game he played this spring.

“It felt like the season wasn’t ready to be over,” Strome said. Then, with everything at stake, he won 13 of his 18 faceoffs, laid out to block a couple of shots and played one of his most complete games of the season to help deliver a 2-1 win that came with a playoff berth.

Afterward, T.J. Oshie said, “I don’t think anyone was more excited than Stromer.”

As first-year coach Spencer Carbery pointed out, it's one thing to want to make the playoffs and “a whole different thing to deliver in those moments.” Along with being the Capitals' leading scorer, he had five game-winning goals this season, tied for most on the team, and stepped up in the absences of centers Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

“He make a big step with his game,” captain Alex Ovechkin said. "He became a key guy for us and he makes some plays, he score goals and he did a great job.”

Now to show what he can do, fittingly starting at Madison Square Garden, where Dylan cheered on Ryan as a supportive brother during the Rangers' 2022 run to the East final. Strome has a history of raising his game in important moments, like in 2017 when he was one of the top scorers in the OHL playoffs and was named Memorial Cup MVP.

His brothers can't wait to see what's next.

“He’s been on that stage before,” Ryan said. “Obviously this is a different beast, but he’s highly motivated, he’s highly confident and it’s a great opportunity for him to continue to grow.”



Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press