Washington Capitals begin Stanley Cup playoffs against N.Y. Rangers

Kids who root for the Washington Capitals are excited that the Stanley Cup playoffs started last night. But some fans who have followed the Caps for many years may have a different feeling. They are nervous.

For most of their history, the Caps have been a hard-luck team. The last three years, the Caps have had terrific regular season records but have lost early playoff series in the seventh and deciding game. In a Stanley Cup playoff series, the team that wins four games wins the series.

Going way back to 1987, before lots of KidsPost readers were born, the Capitals lost the seventh game of a playoff series to the New York Islanders in four heartbreaking overtimes, 3-2. That night (and morning — the game lasted until almost 2 a.m.), the Islanders’ goaltender, Kelly Hrudey, made an unbelievable 73 saves.

Maybe this year the Caps’ luck will change. After all, Washington had the best regular season record in the Eastern Conference — 48 wins, 23 losses and 11 overtime losses (48-23-11). The Caps are playing great coming into the playoffs. They have a record of 16-3-1 since Feb. 26. The team is concentrating more on defense instead of scoring goals. Only three of the 30 teams in the National Hockey League gave up fewer goals than the Caps.

Still, I’m nervous. Stanley Cup playoff games are always close. Last year, 40 of the 89 playoff games (that’s about 45 percent) were decided by one goal. That means one bad bounce or lucky shot can make the difference.

The Caps’ goalies are good, but they are young. Semyon Varlamov is 22 years old, while Michal Neuvirth just turned 23. They don’t have much playoff experience.

Finally, the Caps’ first-round opponent, the New York Rangers, are pretty good. Washington had a better record, but the Rangers scored more goals than the Caps and gave up only one more goal during the regular season. Even though the Caps are the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference and the Rangers barely made the playoffs, the two teams are more evenly matched than you might think. (The Rangers took three of four games from the Caps this season).

In goal, the Rangers have Henrik Lundqvist. The 29-year-old has plenty of big-game experience. He has been the Rangers’ top goalie for the past six seasons. A native of Sweden, Lundqvist led his nation to a gold medal in the 2006 Winter Olympics.

Stanley Cup playoffs are so exciting. So I’ll be watching and rooting for the Capitals. But I’ll be nervous.

Fred Bowen will be signing his sports books for kids from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday at Booktopia, 6912 Arlington Ave. in Bethesda.

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