Could the Washington Capitals be 2012's Cinderella Story?

On January 24, the Washington Capitals went up to Boston to face the Bruins without Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, or Mike Green in their line-up.  To quote the great philosopher Timon from “The Lion King”, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” and that’s exactly what Washington did.

[caption id="attachment_162" align="aligncenter" width="315" caption="One of the greatest thinkers of our time."]Timon[/caption]

They found production from unlikely sources, which is what top-tier teams have to do when their stars are out. Mathieu Perreault recorded his first career hat trick, aided by two assists from veteran defenseman Roman Hamrlik.

That game proved that Washington has the depth to beat the best teams in the league, even when their biggest assets are absent. As you can read in any first round playoff prediction, Washington won the season series against Boston 3-1, but as you may also have heard, the playoffs are a whole different animal.

Washington has demonstrated in the past few years that they do not thrive under the pressure of the playoffs. I still wake up some nights in a cold sweat, screaming, having had a nightmare about the 2010 catastrophic meltdown to the Montreal Canadiens.

[caption id="attachment_165" align="aligncenter" width="419" caption="One of the biggest meltdowns since Chernobyl."]Montreal Canadiens[/caption]

Some critics may be inclined to throw around the word “choke”.  Regardless of how you phrase it, the Capitals have given us no reason to think that this year will be any more successful than the past. But there is one critical difference between this year and previous years; the Capitals are not by any measure a favorite, and I think this works in their favor.

The past two years, the Caps have won the Eastern conference, and expectations have been high. Maybe low expectations are exactly what the doctor ordered. The Bruins are the third seed in the East, so the first two games of the series will be played in Boston. Instead of being pressured to win the first two games because they’re at Washington’s home rink at the Verizon Center, maybe now they can go up to Boston and say, “OK guys, we aren’t the favorites here. Let’s take one of these two games.” Based on their somewhat sobering performance this season, Washington is no longer perceived as the offensive powerhouse that they used to, so they aren’t expected to steamroll teams anymore. Now, instead of being pressured to win each series in four or five games, Washington can commit to playing tough, consistent hockey, and win in six games, or seven if necessary.

[caption id="attachment_161" align="alignright" width="320" caption="Rookie goalie Braden Holtby looks to be Washington's starting goalie headed into the postseason"]Braden Holtby[/caption]


With inexperienced Braden Holtby minding the net until further notice, Washington simply cannot afford to play the run-and-gun style that they were so fond of in the past. It’s become clear to all involved that Washington simply isn’t the team that can consistently score goals in bunches anymore. They’ll need to be aggressive, get a lead early, and please, for my sake, do not recede into passive defense. Hopefully the Capitals can flourish under their new identity as a dark horse, and will surprise everyone by upsetting the defending Stanley Cup champions.

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