With 120 points this year, the Washington Capitals (56-18-8) were far and away the best team in the NHL, finishing with six more wins and 11 more points than any other team in hockey. Now they just need to do something they haven’t done since 1998: Get to a Stanley Cup.
Or just a conference finals.
The Capitals have lost in the first or second round of the playoffs 10 times since 1998, including seven of the last eight years.
Will this year finally be the year that the Capitals break through their early round bugaboo?
“A lot of the folks in town are worried because of the checkered playoff past that the Capitals have, and I understand why you’re fearful,” Capitals play-by-play announcer Joe Beninati said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “You think you’ve seen this movie before, but this team is way better than anything else we’ve ever seen in these parts.”
The Capitals clinched a playoff berth, a division title and the Presidents’ Trophy before anyone else in the East had even clinched a playoff berth. The Caps host the Flyers (41-27-14) in Game 1 of their opening-round playoff series Thursday at 7 p.m. ET.
Philadelphia is a quality opponent, but Washington, which finished second in hockey in goals per game (3.0) and goals allowed (2.3) and was in the top five in both power play percentage (21.9) and penalty kill percentage (85.1), comes at you in waves.
Evgeny Kuznetsov (20 goals, 57 assists), Alex Ovechkin (50 goals, 21 assists) and Nicklas Backstrom (20 goals, 50 assists) all finished with 70+ points. T.J. Oshie (26 goals, 25 assists) and Justin Williams (22 goals, 30 assists), meanwhile, were brilliant free-agency acquisitions.
“This team has a lot of offensive weapons,” Beninati said. “T.J.’s skill set is amazing. The one thing that I don’t think we appreciated here in the East having not seen the Blues a lot when Oshie was with them, you don’t understand how much of a competitor, how much of a junkyard dog, how much of a bulldog he is. He’s such a fierce competitor and plays much bigger than he is from a height and weight standpoint. But his touch has been wonderful. He’s been wonderful both on and off the ice. And the other guy, which was a terrific free-agent acquisition was Justin Williams coming in from L.A., with all that Cup experience. He’s been super with respect to helping this team grow.”