DC Sports Day

With 50th Victory, Caps Clinch Playoff Spot

Rangers

With Washington’s overtime 2-1 victory over Carolina last evening, the Caps have become the first team in the NHL to clinch a playoff spot. It was Washington’s captain, Alex Ovechkin, who potted his (league leading) 42nd goal in OT that nailed down the playoff spot last night. Not that there was any doubt that the now Stanley Cup favorites would be in the playoffs this season. It is just very unusual for a team to clinch a spot before Saint Patricks Day– in fact, it is the earliest that Washington has qualified for the playoffs since the 2009-10 season.

 

With only 13 games left and 105 points already garnered (14 more points than any other NHL team), the early guarantee of a playoff appearance is likely to be soon eclipsed by the winning the President’s Cup. That will be a great achievement, as Head Coach Barry Trotz acknowledged last night. He said that coming into training camp, “we said that we wanted to win our division. That’s where we started … and would go from there. There wasn’t any talk of finishing first in the league… [Now] we have a chance to win the league … there’s pride … if you do that, you’ve been good a good team for a lot of games in a very hard league.”

 

But even a President’s Cup does not guarantee going far into the playoffs. Trotz and the Capitals know this, acknowledging that “there are so many good teams, its going to be hard.” In the Caps history (since the team’s inception in 1974-75), they have only been to the Stanley Cup finals once, in 1997-98, where Washington lost to Detroit in four straight games. But the team has been in the playoffs for eight of the last nine seasons, always losing in the first or second round.

 

This team is built differently than those of the past nine years. There are two highly effective offensive lines, a third line that can score and bang, and a fourth that can hit and create energy. All lines are responsible defensively. And the goal differential of +60 is the best in the league. Braden Holtby has been a rock in net, and the defense has been stellar.

 

Yes, the 2015-16 Capitals are different. How the team is put together, the depth, the coaching, and the confidence of each player. We will have to wait until what Trotz calls “the next season” to see what happens this Spring against teams like Chicago (with Patrick Kane and Corey Crawford), but I do not really see another team coming out of the East in the playoffs this year.

 

That storybook aura does seem to swirl around the Washington Capitals this year. It may finally be the season that all those fans that sat in the lower bowl of the Cap Centre 40 years ago and those that have filled the Verizon Center more recently have been dreaming about. Let the “next season” begin.