How far can the Caps take those lofty ex­pec­ta­tions?

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY CLIN­TON YATES clin­ton.yates@wash­

The lofty pre­dic­tions keep piling up for the Washington Cap­i­tals. Three weeks ago, The Hockey News pre­dicted that Ted Leon­sis’s team would fin­ish first in the Metropoli­tan Di­vi­sion. On Wed­nes­day, ESPN’s Scott Burn­side took that a step fur­ther, say­ing not only that they would be di­vi­sion champs but that the Caps would ad­vance to the Stan­ley Cup fi­nals for the first time since 1998.

Leon­sis, in a sur­pris­ingly (some­what) de­featist tone, blogged about the pre­dic­tion, call­ing them “jinx pix­els.” But what should be rea­son­able ex­pec­ta­tions for this squad? Miss­ing the play­offs would ob­vi­ously be a prob­lem. But does that mean any­thing less than a Stan­ley Cup run is a dis­ap­point­ment?

“I think from a Cap­i­tals point of view, num­ber one, they’ve got more pieces now than I think they ever have had in the past,” said CSN Mid-At­lantic color an­a­lyst and for­mer Cap­i­tal Craig Laugh­lin, “be­cause you look at the top two lines now, you add a [Justin] Wil­liams, you add a [ T. J.] Oshie. All of a sud­den now, their top six, I think, is bet­ter than their top six last year and the pre­vi­ous year.”

But, to most fans, tal­ent has rarely been the is­sue: It’s been a mat­ter of ex­e­cu­tion and de­liv­ery. If the parts are all there, what’s to stop this from be­ing the year?

“I just think you put all these pieces to­gether and you have the hunger, and you have their pas­sion. Alex Ovechkin, now he doesn’t have to win any other awards. The only award that he wants to win now is the Cup, and I think that they’re ripe for it,” Laugh­lin said. “That’s why peo­ple are say­ing . . . there’s cer­tain win­dows you have in this game. . . . And ev­ery­one says, ‘Well, their win­dow’s clos­ing.’ Yeah, it’s clos­ing for ev­ery team, and that’s why you want to win the Cup now. And I think if ever the Caps have a le­git­i­mate chance with the par­ity in the NHL, this could be their year.”

But the “bust” fac­tor is im­pos­si­ble to ig­nore with this fran­chise. Mul­ti­ple early road ex­its over the years have etched that word into the psy­che of the Ver­i­zon Cen­ter faith­ful, for bet­ter or worse. A few pre­dic­tions from publi­ca­tions, then, aren’t nec­es­sar­ily get­ting the fan­base go­ing the way it once might have.

“I don’t think win­ning in the first round is enough. I think you’ve got to win that sec­ond round,” Laugh­lin said. “Then you say, ‘You know what? Now we’re one se­ries away from get­ting to the fi­nal.’ And to me, that’s the type of po­si­tion they’re go­ing to need this year.”

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