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Ten Playoff Storylines We Hope To See
The playoffs are truly a second season, beginning in April and not wrapping up until June. Over the course of a long playoff run, the national media really gets to know the teams and players that make it to the Stanley Cup Finals. Each round there are fewer teams, and more media, and they’re always looking for a good story to tell. So in hopes that the Capitals make a long playoff run this post-season, here are ten storylines we hope to see about the Capitals over the next two months :
Dale Hunter : The Legend
Largely considered the biggest goal in Capitals’ history, Dale Hunter scored the OT winner against Philadelphia in Game 7 of the opening round in 1988. Maybe it’s because I was 10 at the time, but an OT winner to advance out of the first round really shouldn’t be the franchise highlight. No doubt it’ll be a story line if the Capitals have a game enter sudden-death overtime though. Hell, I’ve seen that replay during every Capitals Playoff OT game since 1988, and Dale Hunter wasn’t the coach then. If it happens to be a Game 7 against Philadelphia, you’ll probably see Dale Hunter’s name trending nationwide on Twitter due to how often they mention it on TV. Our real hope is that a new goal takes over the mantel of most important in franchise history.
Great 8 : Redemption
There is no doubt that Ovechkin’s numbers are down, so if the Capitals are to have success in the playoffs, it’ll most likely be in some part due to a resurgence in Ovi’s production. Some goals from Alex Semin and Mike Green would obviously be helpful as well, but those guys don’t attract the press that Ovechkin does. Early in the playoffs the stories will be about the decline of Ovi, but if the team makes a run, we’re betting it will be because of the return of the Great 8. And no, we don’t really care to see a series against the Penguins so Mike Milbury and Jeremy Roenick can have some manufactured argument about which star they’d rather have on their team, and whether Malkin should have been drafted above Ovechkin. We’re hoping for a Flyers 1st round victory against that Shitsburgh team.
Nick Backstrom : Concussed Star Center
We’ve all heard enough crap about Sidney Crosby returning from concussion to retake his throne atop the NHL’s list of star players. Our own All-World center has also recently made a return from concussion, and with his 2 points against the Rangers he is poised to regain the form he showed early in the season when he was among the league leaders in points. The better he plays, and the longer the Caps go in the playoffs, the more we’ll hear about his long recovery this season, and how much the Capitals missed him. How much fun would it be to hear TV commentators compare the Sedin twins to our pair of Swedish Centers during the finals?
Young Guns II : The Sequel
Once upon a time, the Capitals had a stable of young talent that were dubbed the “Young Guns.” While we had a bit of fun with that old graphic motif earlier this season, it’s true that those guys are no longer really considered “young,” and they must now lead this team. There are new youngsters on the scene now though, as pictured above, and you could even expand that to include Karl Alzner, John Carlson, Michael Neuvirth, and Braden Holtby. There is no doubt that the Capitals’ roster is well constructed with a mix of experience and youth, but the guys above have been pushing the veterans for playing time all season. If the Capitals are able to run deep into the playoffs, they will most certainly be receiving contributions from several players younger than 25. That won’t be ignored by the media who would be right to point out the future is indeed bright for the Caps, and their window is far from closing.
Ovechkin’s Beard : Welcome Back!
Alex Ovechkin has a promotional deal with Gillette, which has forced him to come to the rink well groomed over the past two seasons. Unfortunately that also corresponds almost directly with his decline in production, so we can’t wait to see the return of facial hair. Apparently Ovi is allowed to put down the razor if he so chooses for a playoff run :
“Gillette and Alex both understand and respect the traditions of the game. Alex isn’t superstitious by nature, and he hasn’t even thought about it. He just wants to make the playoffs, and he’ll decide once the playoffs start. If the team decides to do something, he certainly will be able to participate.”
So a deep run by the Capitals will hopefully mean Playoff Beards, and the ensuing coverage of those beards by the folks in the media. No beard will attract more attention than Ovechkin’s, regardless of how scraggly it looks, and we can’t wait.
Braden Holtby : Dominant Young Goalie
Since the lockout, there is no shortage of dominating performances in the playoffs turned in by 1st and 2nd year goaltenders. Goalies like Antti Niemi, Jaroslav Halak, Marc-Andre Fleury, Ryan Miller, and Cam Ward all solidified their place in team history with great playoff runs early in their careers. So why not Braden Holtby, the 4th round draft pick? He’s just as likely as some of those other guys. Sure Ward and Fleury were first round picks, but Ryan Miller went in the 5th round, Jaroslav Halak was a 9th round draft pick, and Antti Niemi went un-drafted. Michael Neuvirth and Tomas Vokoun will probably be available in later rounds, but if the Caps are going to make a run in these playoffs, they’ll need Braden Holtby to emerge on the big stage. With his eccentric Roy-like “Holtbyisms”, were fairly certain Braden will be a media darling if he keeps the puck out of the net.
Jeff Halpern : Hometown Role Player
Jeff Halpern has been seen in the press box more often than Capitals Outsider writers towards the end of the season, but his skill-set is suited for the post-season, so we think he’ll be on the ice more games than not. We all know Jeff is from Potomac (actually lived next door to my wife in Rockville for his earliest years) and played on the Washington Little Caps, but NBC will assume that the national viewer doesn’t yet know that story. Once they figure out that he married a former Redskins’ cheerleader and is Jewish, he could get more coverage than Ovi. Add to the equation that he’s a scrappy 4th line player who goes to the net, plays defense, and wins face-offs, there is really no way they could ignore his story if he makes a major contribution to a deep run in the playoffs.
Tomas Vokoun : Unselfish Goaltender
Braden Holtby and Michael Neuvirth are the future of this team in goal, and their emergence as playoff heros would surely be welcome. However the player who signed during the off-season in order to take the Capitals deep into the playoffs is Tomas Vokoun, and he did so for below market value. It was obvious when he signed that he finally wanted to be on a winning team, and have a chance at winning a cup. His inconsistency and injuries this season do nothing to diminish the decision he made when he joined the Capitals. Despite his drop in save percentage, his statistics this season were actually fairly in-line with his career numbers, and most would give the Capitals a better chance of winning in the playoffs if Vokoun were in the lineup. If this team is still playing a month from now, we have a good feeling that Tomas will be back in the lineup, and looking to contribute to the team’s success. In this age of star players chasing the big paycheck, its a refreshing story when a player takes less money for a better chance to win, and we’d love to hear more about it during the Stanley Cup Finals.
Roman Hamrlik : Hoists the Stanley Cup
Three time All-Star Roman Hamrlik has been a very good NHL player for a long time after being drafted 1st overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning. He’ll actually turn 38 on Thursday, as the playoffs begin for the Capitals. He isn’t the oldest player on the team (Mike Knuble), but he is the oldest who has yet to touch a Stanley Cup, and the media LOVES that story line. At 1379 games played over 19 seasons, he currently owns the title of, “Active Player with the Most Games Played Who Has Yet to Win the Stanley Cup,” and it’s not even close. Hell, he’s second only to Nick Lidstrom among active players for games played. If the Capitals win the Cup, we’re pretty damn sure you’re going to hear this story, and speculation about where in line he’ll be for the ceremonial passing. Remember Dave Andreychuk? Exactly.