If you pretend that Game 7 never happened (trust us: it didn't), then last year's Caps' season was one big, happy memory.
But sadly, as much as we try to delude ourselves, that Game Which Shall Not Be Mentioned did happen, and that's where the Caps start this season. Can they replicate last year's regular-season success and build on it, getting past those oh-so-many playoff demons and finally bringing a Stanley Cup home to Washington?
Man, we hope so.
The Caps are in Boston tonight for the first of an 82-game playoff tuneup. Maybe that's counting chickens before we've introduced the rooster to the hen, but the NHL's Southeast ain't exactly the NFC East. The Caps are heavy favorites in the division, and with the wide swaths of mediocrity in the lower levels of the Eastern Conference, Ted Leonsis can probably safely start printing those playoff tickets tonight.
That doesn't mean that there aren't questions surrounding the team, or challenges they need to overcome.
Last year, for example, the Caps struggled with the penalty kill. That's going to be a big challenge for them this year. They'll need to improve it this season, especially if they can't bank on facing an impotent Rangers' offense in the first round again.
The Caps also have to hope for health. It was clear that Mike Green was worn down and broken in the playoffs -- this after a regular season where he missed a good-sized chunk of games. He needs to stay healthy and productive not just in October and January, but into May and June.
Will Mike Knuble give them that grit they so often lacked? At times it appeared that only Brooks Laich was willing to do the dirty work in front of the net, getting the garbage goals that don't quite make the highlight reels. Knuble's that kind of player, and should draw enough attention to create a little more space for the fancy-skating players around him.
What about in goal? It's a job-sharing arrangement now, but what about come May? What if Semyon struggles? Or if those conditioning problems which were whispered about last season flare up this year? Is Theo really capable of being the guy?
With Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Semin, all the goal-scoring won't be on Ovie's broad shoulders.
The Caps are certainly poised to be something special; everything is in place. So enjoy the ride as the Caps get ready to rock again.