When the NHL playoffs began, many analysts picked the Washington Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks to square off in the Stanley Cup. Well, those two teams are 1-5 thus far in the postseason, with Washington having lost back-to-back overtime games to Toronto.
“I’m concerned,” Capitals television play-by-play voice Joe Beninati said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “There’s obvious concern for the Capitals, and there should be. I understand why the experts and the pundits all felt like the Caps were right there as favorites with the Chicago Blackhawks for the Stanley Cup, and look what’s happened in this first round with Chicago obviously in immense trouble (down 3-0) and with Washington halfway out.”
But only halfway. That’s the key.
Game 4 is Wednesday in Toronto at 7 p.m. ET.
“I think a lot of the reasons why people felt like this was the time for Washington – (it’s) not just the talent, not the skill level that they (possess), but the grow-up factor,” Beninati said. “The mentality is you’ve been burned so many times, you’ve had so many playoff disappointments, you’re well-schooled in that, and this season you’ve shown us at least during the regular season that you’re able to overcome these things mentally. That’s why I’m still keeping faith in this Washington team. Despite trailing a very good Toronto team, a team that was probably underrated, I expect Washington to play its best game of the series in Game 4 and reduce this to a best-of-three where they have home ice.”
Still, the Maple Leafs are playing with a confidence and resolve that bely their youth. Washington finished with the best record in hockey this year in large because because of its depth. Well, depth doesn’t matter as much when you’re facing a team with youth and speed all over the ice.
Are the Maple Leafs in the Capitals’ heads?
“I don’t know that they’re in their heads,” Beninati said. “I won’t go that far just yet. Let’s wait and see how Game 4 plays out. Toronto has home ice and they’re going to be shot out of a gun in that first 10 minutes. I think that’s enormous for the Capitals and especially for Braden Holtby, who has to elevate.”
Holtby has allowed 10 goals in three games, including eight in his last two. That simply won’t cut it.
“Braden is right there in the Vezina Trophy discussion with Columbus’ Sergei Bobrovsky,” Beninati said. “I think they’re 1 and 1A. Braden has to be enormous (in Game 4), and I think it’s going to have to be early especially because Toronto does have a terrific skill set upfront. Their young forwards are fabulous. This team is going to be fun to watch as they mature and as they go along. They’re fun right now. They are scaring the bejesus out of the Capitals. They’re not intimidated – and they haven’t been from the outset.”