Friday, April 23, 2010

Checking in with the Capitals: The Burden of High Expectations

The playoffs perfectly exemplify why I prefer the NHL to the NBA, even though I would generally consider myself to be far more a basketball fan than a hockey fan. The NBA has a few upsets from time to time but for the most part, the league always gets the match up it wants in the final series and the champion is always the highly marketable team everyone expects.

In the NHL, on the other hand, it's genuinely a whole new season once the playoffs begin. 1- and 2-seeds losing in the first round? It seems to happen every year. A 4-seed winning the whole thing? Why not? Usually, I would consider this situation to be marvelous. But when my own team is top dog, it makes me more than a little bit nervous.

Anyone who follows hockey at all surely knows that the Washington Capitals cruised through the regular season this year. They easily set a franchise record with their point total and claimed their first President's Trophy. Unfortunately, history still isn't on their side. Never mind the fact that the team's playoff history is peppered with crushing disappointments, the overpowering Caps have a glaring weakness: goal tending. A top-notch netminder is the one absolute essential for a Cup run and while Jose Theodore and Simeon Varlamov are both very talented, neither has been especially consistent. One must remember, too, that historically, the President's Trophy winner usually does NOT win the Stanley Cup. Only seven times has a team won both in the same year. As great as the Caps have been all season, it's only too easy for the devotees to imagine the dream slipping away for yet another year.

It's not panic time yet, of course. Even with tonight's loss, the Caps still hold a 3-2 edge in their series with Montreal. Should they win the series, their next opponent is already known: the Flyers, their arch-rivals back in the '80s.

I would be remiss if I did not mention how nice it is to see that Versus and DirecTV worked everything out in time for the playoffs.

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