Fa­mil­iar foes could stand in way of Cap­i­tals’ play­off run

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY MATTHEW PARAS

As long as the Cap­i­tals re­main with­out a Stan­ley Cup, ques­tions will al­ways sur­round Wash­ing­ton if this is “the year.”

The Cap­i­tals now are back-to-back win­ners of the Pres­i­dents’ Tro­phy and have largely em­pha­sized time-and-time again that it doesn’t mean any­thing with­out play­off suc­cess.

But at the same time, the Cap­i­tals have a foun­da­tional core in place for a run — from star (Alex Ovechkin) to one of the league’s best goalies (Braden Holtby) to plenty of tal­ented play­ers in be­tween (Nick­las Back­strom, Kevin Shat­tenkirk, T.J. Oshie).

It’s why Las Ve­gas, as well as many NHL experts, per­ceive the Caps to be one of the top fa­vorites to win the Stan­ley Cup this sea­son. Bo­vada, a sports book, list the Cap­i­tals at +450, mean­ing that a bet­tor would win an ad­di­tional $450 to their $100, sec­ond only to the +400 given the Chicago Black­hawks.

His­tory, though, has proven dif­fi­cult for the Caps to even get past the sec­ond round. There could be fa­mil­iar foes for the Cap­i­tals, as well as new ones, that stand in their way.

Pitts­burgh Pen­guins

Odds to win the Cup: +800

Sea­son se­ries with Cap­i­tals: 2-2 When they’d meet: sec­ond round

The tough­est road to the fi­nals could be the team that de­mor­al­ized the Cap­i­tals last year with Sid­ney Crosby and the Pen­guins. The Pen­guins, how­ever, have no easy path to be­ing re­peat champs due to NHL seed­ing that matched them with the third best team in the con­fer­ence in the Colum­bus Blue Jack­ets.

Even with the moun­tain of in­juries, the Pen­guins will get a ma­jor up­grade with for­ward Ev­geni Malkin (up­per body) set to soon re­turn from in­jury. Each team knows how to score against each other with the Cap­i­tals scor­ing an as­ton­ish­ing seven goals in two of their games against Pitts­burgh this sea­son, while the Pen­guins scored eight goals against Wash­ing­ton in one of the best games of the reg­u­lar sea­son.

Colum­bus Blue Jack­ets

Odds: +1000

Sea­son se­ries: 3-2, Cap­i­tals

When they’d meet: sec­ond round

The Blue Jack­ets have been in a free fall to end the reg­u­lar sea­son, los­ing eight of their last 11. Still, they have a solid core with Cam Atkin­son, Bran­don Saad and Alexan­der Wennberg. This is the same team that has shown enough of­fen­sive fire­power through­out the sea­son that led to a 16-game win­ning streak, which co­in­ci­den­tally was ended by the Cap­i­tals.

Mon­treal Cana­di­ens

Odds: +1400

Sea­son se­ries: 2-1, Cap­i­tals

When they’d meet: con­fer­ence fi­nals

Since for­mer Bru­ins coach Claude Julien took over mid­sea­son, the Cana­di­ens have gone 16-8 and goal­tender Carey Price has righted the ship. The off­sea­son trade for de­fense­men Shea Web­ber has paid off as well. Ev­ery risk the Cana­di­ens has taken this sea­son has seemed to paid off, mak­ing them an even riskier team to face.

And, al­ways lurk­ing

Toronto Maple Leafs: It would be dis­re­spect­ful to au­to­mat­i­cally rule out Wash­ing­ton’s first round op­po­nent and if they pull the up­set, that would mean Toronto’s young guns — specif­i­cally rookie star Aus­ton Matthews — rise to the oc­ca­sion.

New York Rangers: For old times sake, the Rangers have elim­i­nated the Cap­i­tals from the sec­ond round three times since 2011 and have the speed to give them trou­ble again. (would meet in con­fer­ence fi­nals).

Bos­ton Bru­ins: Bos­ton has one of the best spe­cial teams in the league with be­ing ranked first in penalty kill and sev­enth in the power play, while also be­ing a strong team in puck pos­ses­sion. (would meet in con­fer­ence fi­nals).

Ot­tawa Se­na­tors: The Se­na­tors get a big boost with goalie Craig An­der­son has re­turn­ing just in time for the playoffs after miss­ing most of the sea­son sup­port­ing his wife’s bat­tle with can­cer. (would meet in con­fer­ence fi­nals).

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