The Washington Capitals' season was far from normal. It started that way when the team jumped out to a 7-0-0 start, but that was the only normalcy for the next six months. The Caps lost 10 of 15, fired Bruce Boudreau, hired Dale Hunter, became a defensive-minded unit, lost several key players to injuries, failed to make any moves at the trade deadline and did not win the Southeast Division for the first time since 2006-07.
Despite all of that, the Caps are back where they belong: in the postseason. Yet, the craziness continues there. Washington is not the top seed in the Eastern Conference; they finished seventh, but that actually may be a good thing.
“You never know from year to year how things are going to go," General Manager George McPhee said Monday. "We’re just delighted to be playing. Fourteen teams were officially eliminated and we’re still playing. We’re one of 16 teams that would love to win the Stanley Cup and we have a chance.”
For three seasons, the Caps have entered the Stanley Cup Playoffs as heavy favorites, only to falter in historical fashion. This season, however, the pressure is no longer on them. Instead, it is on the Caps' opponents: the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins. When the two teams take the ice Thursday for Game 1 in Boston, all eyes will be on the Bruins. Finally, it seems like the Caps can just go out and play.
“Everybody was saying good things about us after the summer we had," McPhee said. "At that time I said it all looks good on paper, but you never know until you get going, That’s why we play the games. We had a heck of a tough season but we’re delighted to be playing now and we’ll see what unfolds.”
McPhee assembled a team last summer that many thought was the best team in the league. Unfortunately, the Caps never saw that come to fruition as Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom missed significant time. Both are now healthy and aside from the goaltending, Washington is the healthiest it has been all season, which could spell trouble for the opposition.
The Caps are ready for a new challenge; this is the lowest seed the majority of them have ever been in the playoffs. Of course, Caps fans are going to get a little nervous; the postseason never really goes well in these parts, but they're not the only ones worrying.
“I worry about everything all the time," McPhee said.
Adam Vingan is co-founder and editor of Kings Of Leonsis, a Caps-centric blog, and is the Capitals Editor for SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter @Adam_KOL and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.