The Washington Capitals: 2 Wins from that Elusive Stanley Cup Final Appearance
By: Michael Aaron Chase Jr.
The Washington Capitals as an organization have been waiting since 1998 for an opportunity to return to the Stanley Cup. Now the team sits just 2 wins away from ascending to this final playoff series that will determine who will reign as Stanley Cup Champions. Thus for core players like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson, and Braden Holtby this is their chance to finally etch their name in NHL history. Now they just need to finish the job against the Tampa Bay Lighting currently up 2 games to 1 in their Eastern Conference Finals match-up, though easier said than done.
To first recap the series thus far the Capitals took the first 2 games of the series in Tampa by the finals of 4 to 2 and 6 to 2. They won 4 to 2 in game 1 on the strength of a pair of power play goals and a dominant first two periods to jump out to a 4 to nothing lead. Alex Ovechkin led the way in the victory with a power play goal and assist in his first career Conference Final game. Showing that the Capitals captain was ready to show out in his first trip to the 3rd round of the postseason. Game 2 wound up being a further extension of Game 1 in terms of result and execution for Washington. The night started well for the Capitals as a Tom Wilson deflection got them a lead less than 30 seconds into the 1st period. Though things looked as if they were turning in Tampa’s favor, as a couple of questionable penalty calls gave the Lighting 2 power plays. Power plays which they scored on thanks to Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point to take a 2 to 1 lead into the 1st intermission. Though from the beginning of the second period on the Capitals once again dominated the play at even strength. Scoring in the process 5 unanswered goals on their way to another dominant win. Finishing with all six goals they scored by a different player, keeping up the balanced production they have gotten from all 4 lines and 3 defense pairings. Thus the Capitals departed Tampa and headed home with a 2 games to none lead and home ice advantage very much in their favor.
Game 3 though of the series officially became “a series as Tampa announced its presence with a huge 4 to 2 win in Capital One Arena. The Lighting were able to attain this huge win on the strength of their dangerous power play. Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov each scored power play goals as Tampa Bay’s man advantage and a 3 goal second period led them back into the series. Ultimately Tampa this game looked like the team we saw win each of their first two playoff series in 5 games, while Washington’s effort and execution was less than stellar. Now the series has tightened some though Washington still in control being a game up in the series. We shall now see if the Caps can respond in Game 4 and regain their momentum from games 1 and 2 or do the Lighting further push to even the series.
One can only imagine how terrific of a game Game 4 is going to be Thursday between these 2 teams. One thing is for sure the Capitals will certainly be ready to atone for their lackluster Game 3 and try to turn home ice back into an advantage. In terms of what specifically it will take for the Caps to finish this series it comes down to 3 simple keys.
The first being getting Nicklas Backstrom back healthy and a major factor in this series. This is because while Washington has been able to more than mange and win 3 of 4 games with Backstrom out, but his importance cannot be mentioned enough. His ability as an elite two-way center can change the series and possibly tilt it in the Capitals favor. Adding not just more offensive depth and firepower to an already balanced attack, but a key contributor on special teams. His role as a power play quarterback and key penalty killer would be tremendous to add and will only further the Capitals chances to get to the Cup.
The second key is adjusting the penalty kill which has really been the biggest and truly only problem in this series. Now as mentioned getting Nicklas Backstrom back helps this cause, but adjustments must be made to slow down this scalding hot Tampa power play. Some of these adjustments may involve just not taking penalties in general for the Capitals which is obvious. Though maybe adding some more pressure on puck handlers and carriers to disrupt the flow and quick passing power play of Tampa could help also. Thus with 5 of the 8 goals Tampa has scored this series so far coming on the power play if the Caps can limit penalties and slow the Lighting man-advantage they could certainly limit Tampa’s offense overall. Especially since they have firmly controlled played at even strength 5 on 5 through the first 3 games.
Then the third and final key to the Capitals getting the 2 wins they need to advance to the Cup final is consistent effort and desperation. One of the biggest reason the Caps saw Tampa Bay take Game 3 in D.C. was just as much their own shortcomings effort and execution wise, as it was Tampa’s improved play. The Capitals clearly did not play with the same desperation in Game 3 they did the first 2 games. With an epidemic of soft plays in the defensive zone and on pucks. Along with some missed opportunities in key spots with specialty teams the Capitals missed a chance to be just one win away from the Cup final instead of two. The Caps will need to be stronger on pucks in all zones, hungrier on the forecheck, and get to the front of the net on the regular as they have done to continue to control the play in this series. The good thing for Ovechkin and his team is that this is all easily fixable and I expect a much stronger and more consistent effort from Washington. If the Caps play with the same energy and hard-working attitude they have played with in the playoffs to this point a win while not assured is much more attainable for this squad. It just comes down to not just wanting to get to the Final but about doing consistently what it takes each game to get there.
In the end for the Washington Capitals they have accomplished so much already this postseason then they have done in many seasons prior. They have rallied from 2 home losses to open their round one series to beat Columbus in 6 games. They beat arch rival the Pittsburgh Penguins in 6 games to end a long drought of misery versus the franchise in the postseason. And they now have a 2 games to 1 lead over the best team in the Eastern Conference this year. Though the work is certainly not done for this hockey team. Ovechkin, Backstrom, Holtby, Barry Trotz, and the rest of the Capitals are clearly not just happy to be in the East Final they want to win it all. Thus they are and will continue to do what it takes to win games and the Cup. Overall you can say the Caps really want to make up for the missed opportunities they have had as cup contenders the past 6 to 7 years. But you can certainly say “it be better late than never” for these Caps core players to finally win the cup many have been waiting for them to for years now.