Barring the worst stinkeroo performance that ever was a stinkeroo performance, I'm going to enjoy these playoffs by the Caps more than I've enjoyed the playoffs in years.
I approached that first post-lockout series against the Flyers a lot like I'm approaching this one. Relaxed. No expectations, just an anticipation to see what happened. And when the Caps took that better, more experienced Flyers team to Game 7, and the Caps seemed to get better as they went, they set up some expectations for the next year.
And so I went into the 08-09 playoffs with the expectation that the Caps would do better. I was nervous, nerves that were not allayed by a series against an inferior Rangers squad that started badly. But the Caps got through it, and then took the eventual champs to Game 7. Which set up more expectations.
My emotions going into the first round in 09-10 were mainly impatience. Having seen a historic season from the Caps, I just wanted them to dispatch the miserable Canadiens quickly so we could get to the "real" playoff matches. It seems my view was matched by the team. My expectations for the Caps were so high that I felt little anticipation or joy before Game 1. Just the vicarious obligation and duty to justify that great regular season.
Last year, going into the playoffs, my feelings were simply "please don't disappoint me again." I was nervous that the Caps would lay a turd. The result of the Rangers series was less joy than relief -- and then they went ahead and laid a turd against the Lightning.
So here we are again, with the Caps facing a better, more experienced team. The Champs outscored their opponents by a league-best 67 goals over the regular season. The Caps were the definition of mediocre, winning just 42 games and giving up 8 more goals than they scored. Which has me feeling that relaxed joy of anticipation again. No matter what happens (barring an epic stinkeroo), I don't really care. I just want to see the Caps put up a good fight and give the Bruins something to think about.
And if a miracle does happen, and the Caps pull out an unlikely series victory, the Caps are sitting in a nice spot at the seven seed. The two teams that scare me the most in the Eastern Conference from the Caps' perspective -- Pittsburgh and Philly -- are locked in a series that won't just eliminate one of them, but will leave the other bloody and physically wounded. Meanwhile, unless Ottawa shocks the world, the Caps will get the Rangers next series -- a team I believe they match up much better against than either Pennsylvania team. That wouldn't be true if the Caps had earned just two more points and had taken the Southeast Division title, like we all expected.
So I sit here today with hope. But it's the small hope born of low expectations. The hope that the Caps will just put in a performance we can respect against the Bruins. The hope that maybe luck will shine the Caps' way, and they can squeak out one unlikely series win. The hope that Alex Semin will get hot like we know he can, or that Braden Holtby will become a name that is said with "Cam Ward" and "Jaroslav Halak." The hope that Mike Green will find his missing game. The hope that this time it'll be the other guys who take the Caps too lightly.
I'm not expecting any of that. No, I'm unburdened by any expectations at all. And it feels great.