I’m scared, so are you. There is no point in denying it.
We’ve been here before — a historic regular season, a popular pick for the finals, and the feeling that it will all be for naught if the Caps aren’t hoisting the Cup this June. They can call us haters; they can call us emotionally fragile pessimists. We know who we are — we are D.C. sports fans and we haven’t had a parade in 25 years, 42 years if you’re solely a Caps fan.
After watching three weeks of largely meaningless hockey, it is essential to begin mentally preparing for the emotional ups and downs playoff hockey brings. The Stanley Cup Playoffs are the most intense playoffs in all of sports. Every bouncing puck can change a game. Blocked shots are suddenly worth screaming for. You’ll lose sleep replaying overtimes in your head. With any luck, your beard will grow long enough to make those around you uncomfortable.
In an effort to rein in the bipolar chaos heading into the playoffs, let’s take a look at ten reasons Caps fans should have hope that this is the year, and ten reasons to justify our rampant insecurity.
Reasons for hope:
1. We have the best team in hockey. The regular season proved that. And now, the Eastern Conference is more injured and weak than it was earlier this season. The Caps will never have a better opportunity to blow through their conference and reach the finals. We must break them.
2. This roster has more guys with playoff success than any of the Capitals squads of years past. We will close out opponents.
3. The Penguins and the Rangers — our playoff unicorns — are playing each other in the first round. If you aren’t looking ahead as the 1-seed, then you are dreaming too small. These two teams will push each other to the brink and their series will go no less than six games. By the time we face our nemesis, whichever one it may be, they will be bloodied and begging for death. We will have our vengeance.
4. We are still building off of last season. Something clicked with this team when they blew a 3-1 series lead against the Rangers. Instead of pouting, they got angry, and they got better. They built momentum throughout the year and only pumped the brakes after locking up every regular season accolade they sought. They will take out their pent up rage on the Flyers and play their best hockey of the season in the next month.
5. We’re due. It’s the “due theory.” Everything has to come together at some point. All of our teams can’t fail us forever. It won’t happen. This ends now.
6. The 2015-16 Caps might be the first team in history to win the Presidents’ Trophy and have a legitimate gripe that they are being overlooked. The Penguins, not the Caps, were Stanley Cup favorites just a week ago (Caps are once again the betting favorite).
The national media is fully expecting the Caps to fall flat.
We are “Entitled to Nothing,” but we will make them eat their words.
7. Braden Holtby – He is the best goaltender we have ever had, goaltending wins championships. He will be a wall. You will name your child Braden.
8. Ovechkin. He’s eight on this list, but first in our hearts. We’ve watched this wild Russian evolve from a boy to a man in the last decade. He wants nothing more in his career than to bring a Cup to Washington. He knows the window is closing. There won’t be many more opportunities. He will give us everything.
9. We have secondary scoring like we have never had before in the Ovechkin era. Oshie, Williams, Kuznetsov, Backstrom, and Chimera give the Caps five 20-plus goal-scorers not named Ovechkin. The Flyers have three, total. Unlike previous seasons, if a team focuses on shutting down Ovi, we will make them pay for it.
10. Mike Green is gone. It might not be fair to put our recent playoff failures on one man, but his gaffes and penalties cost us multiple playoff games and he was always a liability on the back end. Now the Caps have two sets of defensemen who pound people and do their jobs, and the other four defensemen aren’t too shabby, either. We are deep.
Reasons for panic:
1. Ovechkin and Holtby might have exhausted themselves chasing records in the regular season. Please don’t let this be a storyline, hockey gods.
2. “Same old Caps.” I will attack the first person who says this to me when we fall behind in a game/series. We expect the worst and we will continue to until proven wrong.
3. The Caps are playing their worst hockey of the season heading into the playoffs and by the time they get it in gear it will be too late.
4. Expectations are going to lead players and fans to panic at the first sign of adversity. You will be able to feel the tension in the building if the Flyers ever take a lead or, God forbid, we host a Game 7.
5. Barry Trotz and Alex Ovechkin share the same playoff history. In eight previous playoff appearances as head coach, Trotz’s teams have never advanced beyond the second round. In seven previous playoff appearances, Ovechkin’s teams have never advanced beyond the second round.
6. Injuries – NHL teams are about as honest with their injury reports as an insurance salesman with a pinky ring. The two biggest concerns right now are Backstrom and Beagle who will both play, but haven’t seemed themselves for a while. At the end of every season we find out that Ovechkin plays through being “dinged up,” and then we find out he had a lacerated kidney and a dislocated kneecap throughout the playoffs. Injuries could derail all of our dreams, but every team has to deal with them.
7. All the Caps do is play long series early in the playoffs against teams they should easily extinguish, thereby having nothing left in the tank by the second round. If it takes seven games to beat the Flyers, you don’t deserve a Cup.
8. The conspiracy theory – The NHL wants big market teams to advance in the playoffs. Calls will always go the way of the Rangers or Blackhawks, but never the way of the Caps. A couple bad calls change the momentum and things begin to fall apart, just like they did when a goal was disallowed in Game 5 last season.
9. The cursed theory – Someone put a curse on D.C. in the early 90’s and bound us to eternal sports championship damnation. If you don’t think people in this area actually believe their teams might be cursed, you haven’t been on the Metro after a playoff loss.
10. This will be the Caps’ 26th trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They are 0-25 where it counts most.
As you can see, the list of reasons to panic is neurotic and far outweighed by the list of reasons for hope.
As much as fans want to make it about us and our experience, it isn’t. If your team doesn’t win a championship for 100 years, it isn’t a curse — they weren’t good enough, or they didn’t catch one of the million breaks that have to go a team’s way in order to win a championship.
It’s a crapshoot, just as it is in most sports. Ask the Eagles, who have had some great teams in the 50-plus years of their existence, but look at their Super Bowl trophy case. Still empty.
In the next few weeks, heroes and villains will emerge. For every Joel Ward, there is a Derek Stepan.
Like it or not, the Capitals have a reputation for being postseason frauds. The only thing that will change that is winning a Cup.
By this time next year, if you walk into a bar and order an Alex Ovechkin, it won’t be “Just a White Russian without the Cup.” The jokes end now. Go get that Stanley, Caps.
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