The Washington Capitals earned their second straight Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s top regular season team this season with 118 points and the best goals against average in the sport at 2.2 per game. Unlike last season, though, they got some push-back from the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins before pulling away down the stretch.
As always, the Capitals fan base is bullish on the team’s prospects. We have all been through this gauntlet before. A great regular season, heightened expectations and then the eventual fall from grace usually by the hands of the hated New York Rangers or worse, the Pittsburgh Penguins, who seem to be better equipped to play the grind-em-out style of playoff hockey better than the Caps. That’s not a total indictment of the team’s roster structure, sometime other teams just do things better, it seems.
This year looks like finally the year things will be different. Vegas odds have the Capitals as a 3-1 favorite to bring home Lord Stanley’s Cup to DC. For that to take place, they must face the upstart Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round of the playoffs starting on Thursday.
The Leafs are a young and very exciting team, eerily reminiscent of the early “Rock The Red” Capitals teams with Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green, Alexander Semin and others. Those teams were high flying and put up lots of points but did not have enough to compete in the playoffs vs veteran teams. Toronto is led by 2016 first-overall draft pick Austin Matthews, whose 40-goal season has him set for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.
But in all intents and purposes, this is all about Washington and can they finally pose some serious damage in the playoffs. Fan apathy is at an all-time high and rightly so. This is their second Presidents’ Trophy in as many years, and third in the past decade. During that 10-year span, they’ve won seven division titles and finished atop the Eastern Conference four times, an amazing stretch of regular season dominance that any franchise would envy for.
Yet, this franchise has only ventured past the second round of the playoffs twice, once in 1990 vs Boston and in 1998 vs the Detroit Red Wings in the only Stanley Cup Finals appearances in franchise history, both series ended in sweeps.
While it isn’t a slam-dunk to win a Stanley Cup after winning the President’s Trophy as only 27% of teams since 1990 have done such, anything less than at least a trip to the Finals would indeed be a colossal failure for the franchise and not just because of this season. It would conjure up all of the previous team inadequacies that brought about soul-crushing defeats.
The pressure is on the Capitals to thrive this postseason. Pipes do indeed burst….will it happen again to the good guys?
I guess we all have to stay tuned.