Originally posted on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 4/10/12

As the first round of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals of the NHL playoffs loom, Washington fans are wondering:  “Which Capitals team will show up?”  Will it be the team that beat the Southeastern Division champion Florida Panthers 4-2 in the second to last game of the season and then went on to knock the New York Rangers out of contention for the President’s Cup by a 4-1 margin?  Or — as many worry — will it be the team that lost in four straight to Tampa Bay in the second round last year and the team that fell from their #1 seed in the first round to the eighth place Canadiens two years ago.  Only time will tell.

The players seem excited to be on the ice again, and the final game of the season was one of the most complete played by the Caps in many weeks.  But, as any true hockey fan knows, the playoffs are different in so many ways.  It’s best of seven consecutive games against the same opponent with the winner advancing and the loser starting their summer break early.

How does Washington stack up against the Bruins?  Let’s look at the regular season numbers:

  • Goals per Game:  Boston 2nd in NHL; Caps 14th
  • Shots per Game: Boston 3rd in NHL; Caps 23rd
  • Goals Against per Game: Boston 6th in NHL; Caps 21st
  • Shots Against per Game: Boston 18th in NHL; Caps 15th

So, given these numbers, which seem to indicate that Washington doesn’t have a chance against the Bruins, one has to ask how did the Capitals beat the Bruins three of four times this year?  They beat Boston twice in the Bruins’ house and split at Verizon Center.  Reviewing the numbers in the four games seems to indicate that when Washington controls the puck well and doesn’t turn it over, they can beat Boston.  In their lone loss on February 5th, the Caps had 14 giveaways vs. only three for the Bruins.  Given that statistic, puck control is one of four important aspects to winning.

The second is scoring on the power play.  Boston is the third most penalized team in the league, amassing more than 1,100 penalty minutes — almost 50% more than the Capitals.  Assuming that Boston continues to spend more than their fair share of time in the box, it’s critical that Washington put pucks on the net when they have the man advantage.

The third is the leadership and drive demonstrated by Washington’s captain, Alex Ovechkin.  When OV is ‘into’ the game, the players thrive on his energy and usually play very well as a team.  When he appears to be simply going through the motions, it shows in the effort of the entire squad.

Fourth– and most important — is goaltending.  Tim Thomas, Boston’s premier goalie and last year’s Vezina Trophy winner, ranks in the top third of NHL goalies in both fewest goals against average and save percentage.  He can be beaten, however, taking the loss in two of the three games facing the Caps this year.  Both he and Matt Hendricks will likely remember the game of two weeks ago, when Washington beat him in a shootout.

On the other end of the ice, the Capitals will be starting — at least for game one — their very young Braden Holtby, who was called up from Hershey when both of the Capitals net minders went down with injuries.  He has played extraordinarily well in the last two games, achieving a 1.5 GAA.  The Stanley Cup playoffs are a different stage, however, and we won’t know until Thursday night how that will affect Holtby when he skates out to take his position between the pipes.

The bottom line is this: at this point, Washington’s lackluster and inconsistent performance during the regular season means nothing.  All that matters is how they play once the puck drops in Boston.  Caps fans are hoping that they see the fire and intensity that the Caps have demonstrated on numerous occasions — and that they see it for a full sixty minutes in every game in the playoffs.  That’s all we can ask for.

Let’s Go Caps!

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