1. Fifteen of 15 NHL.com folks and 38 of 52 Athletic writers (who may also be athletic writers, but we all know that’s unlikely), seven of seven Sporting News scribes, five of six PHTers and four of five Sports Illustrated authors picked the Caps to handle the ‘Canes in Round 1. But zero of those 85 picked the Caps to repeat as Cup champs. Hell, only one of those 85 had the Caps in the Final (NHL.com Editor-in-Chief Bill Price... welcome to the resistance). And that’s fair - the odds for any team are long, particularly on the Tampa side of the bracket.
Yet two Athletic writers picked the Caps as the playoffs’ “most overrated” team. By whom? Probably not by those 79 experts, and certainly not by this guy...
My first upset pick of the opening playoff round is @NHLCanes over the defending champs. There's something scary about the way #RodBrind'Amour has whipped his club into a playoff contender. Canes in 6.— Stan Fischler (@StanFischler) April 9, 2019
Hey, any time you can enter a series as a division-winning defending Stanley Cup Champion and play the “us against the world” card, you’ve gotta do it. Be on the lookout for it!
2. There’s an old saying that goes, “If you have two number one goalies, you have none.” This is false - if you have two number one goalies, you have two number one goalies. In the case of the Hurricanes, they have... a decision to make.
Brind’Amour says decision not yet made on starting goalie for playoff opener. Says his feeling is both Mrazek and McElhinney might be used.— Chip Alexander (@ice_chip) April 8, 2019
Petr Mrazek (who you can Get to Know here) was much better down the stretch (and against the Caps this year), so it’s hard to imagine he doesn’t get the call to start the series. Then again, reasonable minds might disagree. Here’s NHL analyst and former netminder Martin Biron with his take:
“I would go with McElhinney,” Biron said. “I think Curtis McElhinney will give you more consistent play in the playoffs.” More structure, more simplicity to his game, Biron said. “Mrazek is more flying off his magic carpet,” he added. “You never know what you’re going to get.”
Either way, hopefully Coach Brind’Amour’s gut is right. Heck, we’d love to see them both used in each and every game.
3. The Caps’ postseason roster is a little lighter this year than it was a year ago, and, no it’s not because Devante Smith-Pelly is in Hershey (ouch) or because Nic Dowd weighs a few pounds less than Jay Beagle (miss u, Beags!), but rather it’s the absence of... well, you might remember this hefty chap:
Now? Pachyderms purged, demons exorcised, et cetera. And it feels good:
“It has to feel different,” Brooks Orpik said. “I don’t care what you tell yourself. You have to recognize what we did last year. But I think as a group we did a really good job of enjoying what we did last year. I think everyone was really good about turning the page and moving on. This is a completely different year. But it’s impossible to put what we did last year out of your mind.”
“Our situation has changed,” [Braden] Holtby said. “The end goal is still the same internally, but externally there is a lot less pressure that can affect the team. That’s why teams who have won before have found a way to have success again. I’m not saying it’s ever going to be easy. We just have a new level of experience with that type of thing and we just have to try to do the best with it.”
Not only does it feel good, but it should be beneficial as well (duh):
‘’We’re more prepared mentally and emotionally to handle stuff than we’ve ever been. Having success in those critical moments, I think, gives everybody a little confidence that they can handle it,’’ general manager Brian MacLellan said. ‘’You look at teams that are always looking to add guys who have won before; we have a team full of them.’’
Just consider how you used to feel when you’d see an article titled, “Top 10 Players Still Searching for Their First Cup” and how quickly you’d close the tab, your web browser and your laptop, just to be sure you didn’t accidentally click on it. Now? Bring it on (sorry, King Henrik and Jumbo). Multiply that feeling by a large number and you might get some sense of how the players feel.
Experience, of course, does not win championships. Neither does the removal of some pressure points. But “been there, done that, partied in the fountains” goes a long way, for players and fans alike. As the Captain put it...
‘’It’s a new year. What happened was great,’’ said [Alex] Ovechkin, whose 51 goals made him the league leader for a record eighth time. ‘’So we’re going to try to do it again.’’