So after the weekend’s colossal choke job by three teams who only needed a win to make the playoffs (Dallas, Chicago and Carolina), the Caps ended up drawing the Rangers, with whom they might have a little bit of history, if you hadn’t heard (and yes, I just watched that 10 times in a row, followed by this at least 50 times in a row).
There are lots of storylines in this series, but the one that I think is the most important is that Ryan Callahan is out. That’s a huge deal. He was second on the team in points, with 48, despite playing 17 fewer games than Brandon Dubinsky, and he also was second in goals and fifth in assists (again, while only playing 60 games this year). He also led the team in power play goals and game-he shwinning goals. You just can’t lose a “glue” guy like Callahan and expect to advance very far in the playoffs, especially when most of your teammates aren’t exactly blowing the world away offensively (they’re 16th in goals per game; the Caps are a little worse than that, but they don’t have a ton of major injuries up front).
I think the play of the goaltenders will also be very important. Henrik Lundqvist has made 26 consecutive starts, and led the league in shutouts this year. He didn’t really impress me all that much two years ago, so let’s see what he brings to the table this time around. Normally, I’d be a little anxious going into the playoffs with two young goaltenders, but Varlamov’s been through the dance twice now, and Neuvirth has won on every level while also backstopping two consecutive Calder Cup Champions. I’m not worried about either one of them.
Overall, I think the Caps are a deeper, better team, and I think they should pull through a really tough series in six games. The Caps have the best player in the series (Ovechkin), the best defensive shutdown pair (Alzner/Carlson), a better bottom six than the Rangers, and their GM didn’t sign Derek Boogaard to a multi-year contract (okay, that doesn’t count, but it should).
I saw a bumper sticker on the way home today that read “you deserve what you accept.” I think writers will make endless Montreal/Halak comparisons in their views and predictions on this series, but I don’t see the same thing happening again. The players know this time around they can’t accept overlooking what seems to be an inferior opponent, and the room seems to have much stronger leadership than it did last year. The Caps core players have had their “we’re happy to be here” playoff series, and they’ve had their “we’re not that far away” and their “crippling disappointment” series. I think they know that this is their time, and this is their year, and that they aren’t just going to be given a Stanley Cup.