AP Photo/Alex Brandon
You’ve gotta love Brian MacLellan’s pick-up of Kevin Shattenkirk by the trade deadline. I wanted it well before it even happened, but I love it even more now as I survey likely opponents the Caps will face in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The more depth for the Caps, the better. One thing’s clear: as well as the Caps have prepared and looked, there are likely no easy series for them in this year’s playoffs. They won’t be able to look past a single opponent, and each series is fully capable of going the distance.
Current playoff bracket, if season ended today:
Here is what I believe to be the least favorable match-ups the Caps could face and I left out still others; for instance, I didn’t even list the formidable Chicago Blackhawks.
— Tim Foisie (@12th_man_Tifosi) January 27, 2017
1st round – the New York Islanders – They’re the only team to win the series against the Caps this season so far; they’ve proven in the regular season that they match-up well.
1st round runner-up – the Toronto Maple Leafs – Their young, gunning team would play with a nothing to lose attitude and a rabid fan base behind them. Their last playoff series win was 2003-04 (only three clubs have waited longer) and their last Stanley Cup championship is a half century ago, well before the Caps even existed. With a game left to be played between them in the regular season, so far Toronto won in regulation and the Capitals won in overtime.
2nd round – the Pittsburgh Penguins – Acquiring two defenders, Mark Street and Frankie Corrado, at the trade deadline, the Penguins remain the challenger we must prove we can beat in the playoffs. Nothing further needs to be said.
2nd round runner-up – the Columbus Blue Jackets – John Tortorella deserves coach of the year honors as he turned this team around in ways no one predicted (a single pundit had them achieving a wild card spot). If the Caps face them in the 2nd round, the Blue Jackets would have won their first playoff series ever and it also likely mean the Penguins have lost. Both the Caps and the Blue Jackets would have an extra boost of energy in this series and it would be interesting. With two games left to be played between them in the regular season, both are 1-1-1.
3rd round – the New York Rangers – The Rangers have won two of three games played so far this season, but the Caps looked much better in their most recent match. The Rangers have beaten the Capitals three out of their last four playoff appearances.
3rd round runner-up – the Ottawa Senators – This season, the Caps won two games (each by just a goal) and lost 3-0 to the Senators. If you thought the Senators, who play tighter on defense, would be a tougher match-up than the Rangers, it would be hard to argue with that choice either.
4th round – the San Jose Sharks – No current NHL team has a better record all-time against the Caps than the Sharks, who’ve won 13 out of the 16 games in the Ovechkin era including the last three games, two of which were shutouts (5-0, 5-2 and 3-0). I believe in the importance of recent form so this Thursday’s game in San Jose will be critical to seeing where both teams are at.
4th round runner-up – the Minnesota Wild – The Wild are the team that’s looked as strong as the Caps for most of this season; like the Caps, the Wild must prove they can move beyond a tried-and-true playoff warrior; for Minnesota, it’s the Blackhawks. The state of hockey has never won the Stanley Cup; if they get to the Finals, Bruce Boudreau, their team, their city would be as desperate to win one as Barry Trotz, the Caps, our nation’s capital. They play each other for the first time this season immediately following the Caps’ upcoming West coast road trip.
It’s not a surprise that the Stanley Cup is widely considered the hardest championship trophy to win in all of professional sports. Regardless of who the Capitals face in the playoffs and when they face them, fans must continue to make Verizon Center a challenging venue for the visitor, a sea of red and raucous support for the Caps. Our home crowd needs to bolster a hot Braden Holtby, stifling team defense and line match-ups to have a chance at getting past four formidable opponents in a row.
By Tim Foisie