By JOSEPH LANGLEY
Spring has finally sprung, and thus the annual beginning of the NHL playoffs. The reigning Stanley Cup champion, the Washington Capitals seem to once again be in the driver’s seat, winning their fourth consecutive Metropolitan Division title with a dominating record of 48-26. Star captain Alex Ovechkin won the Rocket Richard Trophy for the eighth time in his career for leading the NHL in goals with 51.
Ever since June of last year, the pressure has been on the Capitals to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. Pressure only increased when TJ Oshie led the crowd of fans at last June’s Championship Parade with the chant “Back to Back!” After losing 4-year coach Barry Trotz, weeks after winning the Stanley Cup, it seemed unlikely the Capitals could return to the level of success they had in 2018.
Haunted by losing dramatically in the playoffs for the last decade, Trotz was able to bring a talented group finally over the hump. After Trotz left for the division rival New York Islanders over a contract dispute with the Capitals, assistant coach Todd Reirden was given the position of head coach.
Losing center Jay Beagle to the Vancouver Canucks and back up goalie Philipp Grubauer to the Colorado Avalanche also slimmed the odds for the Capitals repeating. However, re-signing right winger Tom Wilson to a 6-year contract, and defenseman John Carlson to an 8 year contract helped the Capitals keep their core together.
Students at UMW shared their thoughts about the Capitals possible 2019 playoff outcome.
“After seeing how the team played toward the end of this season, coming out on top of the Metropolitan Division, I see no reason why the Caps can’t repeat as Stanley Cup champs if everyone stays healthy,” said junior Andrew Halmrast.
Halmrast is right that health is a huge part of the Capitals’ success. Losing defenseman Michal Kempny for the remainder of the season to a major leg injury certainly hurts the Caps. If the Capitals roster can stay healthy otherwise, they will be very hard to beat.
Junior business major and devout Capitals fan Ethan Kelly shared his thoughts on the Capitals 2019 playoff chances, and highlighted the value of Alex Ovechkin.
Kelly said, “Yeah, I definitely think they have a good chance at going back to back. Ovechkin is playing really well, and if he’s strong, the entire team is strong. They pretty much design there entire playbook around him so if he’s healthy, they will repeat without a doubt.”
Another big part of that success is undoubtedly how Alex Ovechkin plays. Ovechkin’s elite performance in last years championship run resulted in him winning the Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the best player in the NHL playoffs.
“With TJ Oshie, Alex Ovechkin, Tom Wilson, Niklas Backstrom, John Carlson and Evgeny Kuznetsov, I will not doubt the Capitals. I believe the Caps can make it to the Stanley Cup Finals for a chance at winning back to back titles. With them already winning the division, like last year; only the Pittsburgh Penguins stand in their way of doing it again,” said communication major Alex Caldas, regarding Washington’s playoff chances.
What Caldas said is true, the Pittsburgh Penguins are one of the most dangerous teams in the playoffs. Beating the Penguins in last year’s playoffs provided a sense of confidence to the team, after years of meeting them in the playoffs and losing in dramatic 6-7 game series.
The Penguins will once again be an obstacle for the Capitals, as will the rest of the possible opponents the team could/will face. Also, like Caldas said, the Capitals are as good if not better than any team in the playoffs with their strong core of TJ Oshie, Alex Ovechkin, Niklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, John Carlson, etc.
The first round matchup for the Capitals will be the Carolina Hurricanes starting April 11 at 7:30 in DC. The Capitals won six out of eight games against the Hurricanes this regular season, giving them the confidence that they can beat them again on a bigger stage. Will the 2019 NHL Playoffs result in a back to back Stanley Cup championship parade for the Washington Capitals? UMW students seem to believe there’s a high chance in that happening.