Stanley Cup Dreams
When a sports season ends badly, fans famously utter the cliché about waiting until next year. It can feel like a really long wait. The road to the Stanley Cup begins anew tonight as the Washington Capitals host the New York Rangers. Will it be heartbreak or redemption for last season’s sad and humiliating 1st round defeat by Montreal when the Caps blew a 3-1 series lead.
This is not last year. The Caps were the best team in hockey in 2010; an absolute offensive scoring juggernaut. They were cocky, full of themselves and missing a couple of ingredients—defense and grit. They ran into hot goalkeeping and lost their confidence and had nothing to fall back on.
This time around, they don’t have half the offense. But they do play tough defense and it’s no big deal for them to win low-scoring games. Last year, the Caps got hot in February winning 14 straight. This year, they’re hot right now. They are 16-3-1 in their last 20 games.
The New York Rangers have a spotty offense and terrific goal-tending but the Caps will never take them for granted. On December 12th, the Rangers crushed Washington, in New York, 7-0. It was Washington’s worst defeat in five years. It marked their 6th straight loss. It was the moment the Caps fully understood they needed to change their character. That loss has helped make the Caps who they are today- a scrappy, gritty, tough, defensive-oriented team that thinks nothing of scoring just a couple of goals a game- they’ll shut you down and hold you to one. There is no shortage of incentive for the Caps against these Rangers.
There’s nothing sure in sports, of course. But even if they do lose to New York in the 1st round, they will have done all the right things to give them the best chance possible. Pucks take funny bounces; the NHL playoffs are notorious for upsets. So the only thing you can control- is your philosophy and your work ethic. They have the right philosophy and they work their tails off. It’s all you can ask for. It’s how they have, once again, become the #1 seed in the NHL’s Eastern Conference.
Here’s what some others think of the Caps chances in this opening series against the Rangers:
Caps in 6
Our friends at Discovermoosejaw.com in South-central Saskatchewan, Canada call it Caps in six. This wasn’t just one guy from Moosejaw, Saskatchewan- this was a whole panel of famous Moosejawnians; the morning radio hosts of Country 100, the Director of Hockey Operations for the Moose Jaw Warriors, the Head Coach of the Moosejaw Generals and the Head Coach of the Moose Jaw Miller Express.
Rangers in ?????
Edmond Dantes of the Bleacherreport.com says if the Caps don’t start goalie, Michal Neuvirth, they’re toast. He bases his pick on the Caps-Rangers head-to-head contests this season, painfully outlined above.
Caps in 4
Over in Pennsylvania, way northwest of Philadelphia in the Lehigh Valley, Kevin Amerman of the morningcall.com puts it this way as he predicts a Caps sweep:
Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist is very good, but not great enough on a team with little identity to stop Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Knuble and company.
Caps in 7
SB Nation/Denver’s Matthew Muzia sees a nail-biter but totally buys into the change in the Cap’s philosophy. He points out a Ranger upset would not that be that huge considering those 7-0 and 6-0 Caps losses to New York earlier in the season.
Rangers in 5
The Boston Globe’s Kevin Paul Dupont does not think the Caps can overcome Ranger goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Dupont thinks we’re going to get all rattled and frustrated.
Caps Are the Betting Public’s #2 Pick
Over at Thespread.com this is how fans are thinking about the Stanley Cup playoffs in general. This is folks talking with their money:
San Jose Sharks 76%
Caps in 5
Dave Gross with the Ottowa Citizen makes the most sense of all these guys:
Capitals win if: They slam the foot on the gas and keep it there. This should be a motivated team considering the frustrations of the past two playoffs. Boudreau pointed out the team’s better suited now to low-scoring games after continuing to win with fewer goals (for and against) this past season.