The Washington Capitals finally slayed the beast. They beat the Pittsburgh Penguins and with it they put to bed any demons they may have had. Looking at their team and their past, it feels like it was good enough. Anything more than this is just cake, right?
This is a long time coming for a team that has seen plenty of disappointment. With players like Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom moving toward the twilight of their careers, it didn’t look possible that they could make it to this point. The team and the players have followed a simple formula. A stifling penalty kill and a sharp power play have carried them. It worked against the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Penguins, and a similar game-plan has a chance of working against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
If you're a fan of "mystical Stanley Cup narratives," allow me to note that the Washington Capitals could have the following path:
– Eliminate John Tortorella
– Finally overcome Penguins
– Eliminate Chris Kunitz & ex-Rangers
– Win Cup vs. George McPhee and Marc-Andre Fleury
— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) May 10, 2018
Having lost players like Kevin Shattenkirk, Marcus Johansson, and Justin Williams, it didn’t feel like a club that had enough to bounce back this year. It showed during the season when they were losing games they should have won and winning games they should have lost. They still finished first in the division, and it was despite some poor underlying numbers. The Stanley Cup Playoffs are about superstars and the coin flip goal from a player you weren’t expecting. Ovechkin has shown up but so have Chandler Stephenson, Devante Smith-Pelly and Jakub Vrana making a big impact.
Fans of the Capitals likely find this year ironic. Traditionally, when everything went their way in the regular season they would have nothing left during the playoffs. The tables have turned, and they find themselves a series away from the Stanley Cup Final.
Perspective: The last time the Washington Capitals made the Eastern Conference Finals was the day after the last episode of Seinfeld (5/15/1998) pic.twitter.com/BQoGSPK2E4
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) May 8, 2018
If you even follow hockey a tiny bit you’ll know that the Tampa Bay Lightning are loaded from top to bottom. They have role players that could easily be part of top-6 forward groups on other teams. They don’t have any holes, and it has frustrated two solid clubs already. The Caps have holes and they have areas where they can be exploited. That narrative too took a backseat in Game 1 as the Capitals dispatched the Lightning 4-2 in the opener.
It may very well be the Caps’ year, but as they have learned before, players don’t receive praise for winning a series. They receive it for winning a Stanley Cup. Ovechkin is already in a league almost all on his own, but this puts the cherry on top of it all. How sweet it ends up can be determined by the 2018 playoffs.