At this time last year, the Caps annual berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs was met with a large yawn. Sure, they had won the Metropolitan Division for the third-straight year and then they were down 2-0 to Columbus with two overtime losses at home.
Somehow, they freaking won the Stanley Cup!
Now, the march to Lord Stanley begins as defending champions and a huge target is on their back.
First up: the Carolina Hurricanes.
Who can help carry the Capitals into June so they can chant “back-to-back-to-back” or “three-peat” at another parade? Here are the Magnificent Seven:
With a grand piano off his back, what Ovechkin will show up in the playoff run this year? With 15 goals and 12 assists, along with a +8 rating in 24 games – the “Great 8” averaged more than a point per game. His 15th goal of the playoff gave the Caps a lead in Game 5 of last year’s clincher.
Ovechkin showed up in terrific shape after a short summer, scored 51 goals while playing in 81 games and only missed one game, while serving a suspension for missing the NHL All-Star Game. He’s the third-oldest player in NHL history to score 50 goals.
Kuznetsov delivered the goal heard around the hockey world to finally eliminate the Penguins in overtime on the road and put the Capitals in the Eastern Finals.
The only thing he didn’t do well last year was win face-offs at a playoff clip of 38.2 percent. It’s never going to be his strength. He finished the regular season at 36.9 percent and it will be a huge issue for the Caps, especially without Jay Beagle on this year’s team.
During the season, Kuznetsov was up and down. On the road, he only scored four of his 21 goals. After scoring five goals in 10 games in October, Kuzy scored only FOUR goals combined in the next three months or 34 games. In the final 32 games, starting February 1, he scored 12 and was dominant at times.
Kuznetsov played very well in big games down the stretch against Tampa and Carolina. If he’s that Evgeny, the Caps will go deep. If he’s not engaged, they’ll be home for the summer sooner than later.
He was a minus 1 player overall during the run and won 51.7 percent of his face-offs. The Caps need Backstrom to be even better than that to help carry the load.
Carlson had five goals and 15 assists in 24 games during last year’s Stanley Cup run, while racking up a +11, averaging more than 25 minutes per game on ice.