The Capitals’ first round series against the New York Rangers was an opportunity for Washington to show the hockey world whether they’ve grown as a team since their devastatingly early playoff exit in 2010.
This Washington squad made quick work of the Rangers, and in doing so, demonstrated that they aren’t the same team that’s disappointed in the playoffs for the last three years. In previous years, when the Capitals would spot the opposition an early lead, they’d panic and usually lose by an even wider margin.
Not this time.
In game four, with the Rangers up by three goals after just two periods of play, the Capitals could have come crashing down like a house of cards. Instead, they rallied to score four unanswered goals and take a commanding lead in the series.
After they completed the comeback in the second overtime, the outcome of the series seemed pretty obvious. By the time Saturday’s game five had ended, the Capitals looked like a playoff-ready team for the first time since Bruce Boudreau took the reigns as head coach.
In the series’ final game, the Capitals didn’t squeak by the Rangers, they delivered a knockout punch in the opening round. Within the first six minutes of the game, the Capitals had a lead and all the momentum they needed.
Previously, the Capitals’ star players had a reputation for vanishing during important games. This time around, the team’s three goals were supplied by Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Mike Green. Their big guns showed up to play, and when that happens with a skilled team like Washington, the rest takes care of itself.
Entering the playoffs, the Capitals were seen as one of the favorites from the East to challenge for the Stanley Cup, along with Philadelphia, Boston and arguably Pittsburgh, if Crosby were healthy enough to play. While each of the other contending teams from the conference have had to play seven games to reach the semifinals, the Capitals got rid of the Rangers two games earlier.
This additional rest is a luxury the Capitals haven’t had in previous years, and it may prove to be a difference maker. If either Dennis Wideman or Mike Knuble is available to play in the second round, the team that defeated New York in five games will be even stronger, though the Caps proved they are capable of winning with the group they have right now.
If history has told us anything, it’s that the playoffs are a grind, both physically and mentally. In order to emerge from this two month-long grind as the last team standing, it usually entails a team winning a couple of series in six games or less. The Capitals have accomplished the first step in their quest for playoff redemption, and because they did so in five games, they’re better prepared for their next opponent.