Fans split over Caps’ playoff chances


Led by Alex Ovechkin (8), the Capitals are entering a playoff series against the New York Rangers. Postseason play will attract both optimists and pessimists. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

The puck drops in the National Hockey League playoff series between the Washington Capitals and the New York Rangers on Thursday at Verizon Center.

Caps fans are split into two camps as the team begins its quest for the Stanley Cup. There are the optimists, who think the (Stanley) cup is half-full and Washington is ready to win. Then there are the pessimists, who are afraid the Caps will let us down again. They figure the cup is half-empty. Let’s look at both.

The optimists think:

●The Caps are red-hot. Since the middle of March, when it looked as if there was no way for Washington to make the playoffs, the Caps have had a record of 15-2-2 (15 wins, two losses and two overtime losses).

●The Caps are putting the puck in the net. They are fourth in the league in goals scored and first in power-play goals. (That’s when one team scores while the other team has a skater in the penalty box.)

●Alex Ovechkin is playing well. After he had a shaky start, the Caps’ coach, Adam Oates, reunited him with playmaking center Nicklas Backstrom. Ovechkin won the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy for leading the NHL in goals scored, with 32 for the season.

●Braden Holtby, the Caps’ goaltender, has been rock-solid during the team’s hot streak. That’s good news, because a team needs a steady goalie in the playoffs, when the games are usually close. Last year, almost 60 percent of the playoff games were decided by a single goal!

But the pessimists think:

●The Caps’ record is deceiving. They had a 15-3 record against the wimpy teams in the Southeast Division. But no Southeast teams (except the Caps) made the playoffs. Washington will have to play much tougher teams from the Atlantic and Northeast divisions, starting with the rugged Rangers. The Caps had a losing record against those teams this season.

●History is against Washington. As I mentioned before, the playoffs are usually tight, nail-biting affairs where a lucky bounce or one unbelievable save can be the difference between winning and losing a series. The Caps never seem to get a lucky break.

The Caps played 14 playoff games last year, and 13 of them were decided by one goal. Washington lost in the conference semifinals in a heartbreaking 2-1 seventh game to the . . . New York Rangers.

Longtime Washington hockey fans remember the game in 1987 when the Caps lost a seventh and deciding game to the New York Islanders in four (!) overtimes, 3-2.

So who will be right? The optimists or the pessimists? Is the Caps’ Stanley Cup half-full or half-empty?

Find out beginning Thursday.

Fred Bowen writes the sports opinion column for KidsPost. He is the author of 19 sports books for kids that combine sports fiction and sports history. His latest book is “Perfect Game.”

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