Remember last month, when the NHL playoffs were just beginning, and ESPN’s Barry Melrose was a huge Caps skeptic?
“I think everyone thought more of this team,” Melrose told ESPN 980 then. “From now on, they’ve got to show me that they are a good team....It’s gonna be a tough job for the Washington Capitals to win this round.”
The Caps have converted a lot of skeptics since then, and Melrose is evidently in that camp. Because four weeks later, he went on the same show — ESPN 980’s Sports Fix — and picked the Caps to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. (Audio here.)
“Right now the Caps are playing great. I love the way they’re playing,” he said Monday afternoon. “The Caps are playing the type of hockey right now that can get them to the Finals, no doubt about it....I look at New Jersey, they’re gonna beat Philly. I don’t know what’s happened to Philly. Well, New Jersey’s happened to Philly. A team that could barely get by Florida now looks like world beaters, so they’re gonna beat Philly.
“I think the Caps-Rangers series is gonna go 7 games, I think the Caps will win. And then you’ve got Braden Holtby against Marty Brodeur, so that’ll be a great matchup also. But I think the Caps will beat the Rangers and I think they will win the Eastern Conference.”
Of course, if the Caps lose Monday night, everyone will predict they lose this series in six games. So take that with a mullet of salt. In the meantime, if you’re curious, here is Melrose talking about their improvement.
“Actually, after watching them in the first round, I’m not that surprised,” he said. “I picked them to beat the Rangers, because I like the way they’re playing. They’ve completely revamped their style. They’re basically playing exactly the same as the New York Rangers, and I think they’re really playing better than the Rangers. I think they’ve got more 5-on-5 scoring.
“That’s why I think the Caps can beat the Rangers. The Rangers can’t score. They haven’t been able to score all year. They’re great defensively, they’ve got a great goaltender, but even against poor teams, they weren’t able to score a lot of goals. And that’s one area where the Caps are better than the Rangers, their offense.
“And I think that’s sort of come to the forefront, with the way Backstrom played in Game 4. Ovechkin’s had a good series, Green’s playing the best hockey I’ve ever seen him play, and Semin is playing hard. So you have those four guys five-on-five, those are four pretty talented guys. Wideman’s playing well. That’s why I think the Caps can beat the Rangers in this series.”