Many factors contribute to Caps' resurgence

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Many factors contribute to Caps' resurgence

Postby JansenFan » Fri Apr 04, 2008 2:50 pm

Dan Daly - Washington Times wrote:Article published Apr 4, 2008
Many factors contribute to Caps' resurgence

April 4, 2008

By Dan Daly - Just call us Comeback City. The Redskins wobble to a 5-7 start, see their Pro Bowl safety, Sean Taylor, gunned down in the dark of night, and somehow string together four victories to sneak into the playoffs. And now we have the Capitals emerging from the NHL's deepest depths — last in the league in late November — to make an improbable run the last four months of the season. What other market has had two stories like that?

The Caps' resurrection is due to a number of factors — a coaching change, Alex Ovechkin's record-setting goal scoring, the maturing of a young team (at long last!) and also, let's not forget, their general manager's inspired swapping at the trading deadline.

Perhaps you noticed the other night that the three stars in the Caps' 4-1 KO of Carolina — the club's biggest game of the season up to then — were (1) Cristobal Huet (for his continuing goaltending brilliance), (2) Sergei Fedorov (for his two assists and faceoff wizardry) and (3) Matt Cooke (for his first period goal and all-period pulverizing of the opposition).

I asked Ted Leonsis yesterday what went through his mind as the three took their postgame bows. His e-mailed — and all too predictable — response:

"That George McPhee knows what he's doing!!!"

McPhee has taken his lumps in recent years as he has tried to piece the team back together — and create something lasting. So give him credit for the last-minute shopping that brought Huet, Fedorov and Cooke on Feb. 26. After all, since the trio took the ice for Washington, the Capitals are 12-4.

Victory No. 12, a 4-1 stomach-churner, came at Verizon Center last night at the expense of the Tampa Bay Lightning, whose no-show against the Hurricanes the evening before had made the Caps' playoff quest all the more difficult. The Lightning weren't quite as accommodating to the locals, though, scoring with just 39 seconds gone and — despite behind outshot 20-5 in the first period — hanging around for nearly 57 minutes.

Indeed, it took all of Ovechkin's good fortune (the first goal, which deflected off a Tampa Bay bystander) and talent (the second goal, a power-play rocket from the left circle) to keep the Capitals in the playoff hunt. Anything less and tomorrow's regular season finale vs. visiting Florida might have been a meaningless exercise.

What can you say? It's the kid's year — unless, that is, he's going to score 65 goals every season now.

But make no mistake: The Capitals are more than just a team on a mission, a team possessed, and to describe them as such is to do them a disservice. Since Bruce Boudreau was hustled in from Hershey to stop the bleeding, the Caps have been transformed into one of the best clubs in the NHL.

The numbers don't lie. Here's how the bottom of the league looked when Boudreau arrived:

Code: Select all
30. Washington (6-14-1, 13 points)

29. Edmonton (8-13-1, 17)

28. Los Angeles (8-12-1, 17)

27. Phoenix (9-10-0, 18)

26. Florida (9-12-1, 19).

And here's where the Caps rank in the games since (not including last night):

Code: Select all
1. San Jose (38-14-7, 83)

2. Pittsburgh (38-15-6, 82)

3. Detroit (37-15-6, 80)

4. New Jersey (36-18-5, 77)

5. Washington (35-17-7, 77)

That's right, only three teams have scored more points than the Caps (the Devils nosing ahead of them because they've had one more victory).

Which raises, of course, the question: What on earth was Glen Hanlon doing with these guys?

Then again, Hanlon didn't have all of "these guys" at his disposal. He certainly didn't have the Trading Deadline Three. (It's funny. These late season moves designed to get a club over the hump can just as easily be duds. Remember in '97, when the Capitals got Adam Oates, Bill Ranford and Janet Gretzky's future bookie, Rick Tocchet, from the Bruins? It looked sensational on paper, at least for the short-term, but it didn't provide nearly the pick-me-up the team was looking for. The Caps went 6-9-2 in their first 17 games with Oates and Co. and finished out of the playoffs.)

The current Deadline Gang, on the other hand, was quite visible again last night. Huet was his usual humongous self between the pipes, stopping almost everything the Lightning fired at him. (Boudreau: "He's in a zone.") Fedorov, meanwhile, had an assist on Tom Poti's empty-netter near the end. And Cooke, whose grit and clutch play reminds you of Dale Hunter, contributed a big hit in the third period that sent Vincent Lecavalier, Tampa Bay's top offensive threat, to the dressing room. That, no doubt, led to the retaliatory penalty taken by the Lightning's Jussi Jokinen (crosschecking victim: Mike Green) — and to the tiebreaking power-play goal by Alexander the Great.

But will it be enough? Well, we've waited this long to find out. I suppose we can wait one more day. Or might it be two?

Such suspense. But don't worry about the Capitals buckling under the strain, Brooks Laich said. "We're kinda used to it. This has been our life for the last three weeks."

Besides, he added, "Even if we make the playoffs, we're not going to be satisfied. Our goal is to win the Stanley Cup."

First things first, though — the Panthers tomorrow night. Memo to Caps fans: Bring your lungs.
RIP 21

"Nah, I trust the laws of nature to stay constant. I don't pray that the sun will rise tomorrow, and I don't need to pray that someone will beat the Cowboys in the playoffs." - Irn-Bru

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Re: Many factors contribute to Caps' resurgence

Postby GSPODS » Fri Apr 04, 2008 2:58 pm

JansenFan wrote:
"The Caps have been transformed into one of the best clubs in the NHL."

"Even if we make the playoffs, we're not going to be satisfied. Our goal is to win the Stanley Cup."

Those two lines say everything. I haven't been this excited about a Washington team making the playoffs in quite a while. This team could legitimately contend for the Stanley Cup this season, especially if they can somehow steal the #3 seed from Carolina.

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Postby Sir_Monk » Fri Apr 04, 2008 4:07 pm

I remember thinking during the 03-04 season, right after we cast off Peter Bondra, how sad it was that the '98 season was best it would get for this mostly irrelevant franchise. I figured a total rebuild might amount to something, but the best we could hopefor was sneaking back into the Cup finals again but never making a serious run as a top team in the NHL.

But seeing the enthusiastic crowd at the VC, knowing that we have one of if not the best superstars in the game wearing our sweaters, watching these young guys flying around the ice, what a great time to be a Caps fan!
Bruce has the authority. When Bruce makes the decision, it's a Redskins decision.

Fire Bruce Boudreau

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