WASHINGTON – Here we go again. For the fifth-straight year, the Capitals are in the playoffs. They took early exits the previous four.
So, what can we expect this time?
Well, for one thing, the Caps will be starting their fifth-different goaltender. Christobal Huet back-stopped the young Caps into the postseason in 2008. Jose Theodore started the next two-years, but was quickly yanked in favor of Semyon Varlamov.
Last year, Michael Neuvirth got the Capitals into the second round. But, he and top goalie Tomas Vokoun are both hurt this time around. We may still see them in net should the Capitals extend their series with the Boston Bruins or even advance past the first round.
But right now, Washington’s hopes are in the catching glove of 22-year-old Braden Holtby. He has played in a grand total of 21 NHL games. This will be his first NHL playoff experience. But, he seems to have the makeup to rise to the challenge.
He has already won in Detroit and New York this season and his career record with the Caps is 14-4-3 with a sterling 2.02 goals-against-average. That includes three shutouts.
However, Holtby’s abilities will be greatly tested by the defending Stanley Cup Champs, who boast six 20-goal scorers, the most in the NHL.
Capitals General Manager George McPhee calls the Bruins the most complete team in the league. They’re the third-highest scoring team and have given up the sixth-least goals.
In net, they have Tim Thomas, who won the Vezina and Conn Smythe trophies last year as the top goalie during the season and MVP of the playoffs, helping Boston win the Stanley Cup.
That’s where the Bruins have the biggest advantage, between the pipes. Also, they’re tested, tough and balanced.
And big, boasting 6-foot-9 defenseman Zdeno Charra; the tallest player in NHL history. He’s also the strongest.
So, what chance do the Caps have?
That’s a question you could have asked about the Montreal Canadiens in 2010 and the Tampa Bay Lightning last year. Yet, both those teams still managed to beat the Capitals, who were the top-seed.
Unlike the previous three seasons, Washington struggled just to reach the playoffs. They’ve been in playoff mode now for about two-months, rather than being in cruise-control and then trying to ramp it up again.
Also, this time, Washington won’t have home-ice advantage. And maybe that’s a good thing.
It didn’t quite work out when they were eliminated by Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Montreal all at Verizon Center. This season, the Capitals won three of four from the Bruins, including both games in Boston.
So, they know they can win on the road. Also, outside of the goaltending situation, the Capitals are the healthiest they’ve been since the start of the season with the returns of Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom.
The Bruins were basically a .500 club the second half of the season and when 82-games were played, had just seven more wins and three less losses than the Capitals. Not that big a difference.
With both teams having inconsistent seasons, anything can happen in the playoffs. And maybe, just maybe, with little expected of the Capitals going up against the defending champions, they’ll surprise us again. This time for the good.
That’s why even though my head says Bruins in five games, my heart picks the Capitals in six.