Keith Jones and Mike Milbury are watching the same NHL season as the rest of us. And they have come to the same conclusion. It’s a conclusion that might make some Caps boosters nervous, but one that will be argued more and more in the next few days.
“Everything is lined up perfectly for Washington,” Jones said, during NBCSN’s pregame show Wednesday night. “There are no holes. You’d be nuts not to pick the Washington Capitals to come out of the Eastern Conference.”
“I think the Caps are going to win the Stanley Cup,” Milbury said, one-upping his colleague. “And I’ve said it for some time, and I’m sticking with that.”
Gulp? Milbury later added to his comments.
“This is Washington’s time,” he said. “Everybody is in sync. They’ve had their pain. They’ve had their experience. They have depth. They have balance. They have goaltending. Now is the time. There are no more excuses.”
“Alex Ovechkin doesn’t have to win the Conn Smythe Trophy for the Washington Capitals to win the Stanley Cup,” Jones added. “That’s probably the most refreshing thing for Alex Ovechkin. There are other players in that lineup. There are other stars. . . . The team around him is better. They are in a perfect position. You look around the league; there are holes, there are injuries, and the Capitals have none of that.”
Milbury said there are “questions that still roll around in my mind” about the Capitals: whether they are mentally tough enough, or disciplined enough, or smart enough.
“I think they are,” he said. “I think they’ve grown up.”
This was all before the Caps handled the Rangers to clinch everything they could clinch, part of their late-season surge that has erased all those earlier concerns (ahem) that the team had peaked too soon. And so Milbury’s confidence in Washington continued during the network’s postgame show, when he was asked about potential early-round matchups.
“I don’t think the Washington Capitals should be afraid of anybody,” he said. “This is their second straight Presidents’ Trophy. They’ve got experience. They’ve got depth. They’ve got goaltending. They’ve got defense. Balanced scoring up front. It shouldn’t matter to them who they play. This is Washington’s year; they should act like it. . . .
“They have had fear of past experiences going south in Washington,” he went on. “If they start to hit some bumps early in the first round, or even in the second round, that may cause panic. But that’s why they have to stay focused on what they do, and not who they’re playing or how they’re going to change their game based on other opponents. This is the team to beat, and I think they should have that attitude.”
There’s not really any reason not to think the Caps are the team to beat. Which is why Mike Milbury won’t be the last one making this argument.