1. Adam Oates — Boudreau’s porridge was to offense-y. Hunter’s porridge was too defense-y. Oates’ porridge is just right! He makes the team responsible in their own end while letting the Ovechkins of the world feel free to roam and not feel guilty for scoring goals. As players, Oates and his staff were key parts of the Caps’ only appearance in the Stanley Cup finals. Last year as an assistant Oates helped lead the Devils to the Cup Finals. He has the demeanor and the experience needed for a long playoff run.
2. Short Season— In years past the Caps have had two main themes heading into the Stanley Cup playoffs. Either they coasted for the final month and were accused of not being focused, or they had to furiously rally from around New Year’s Day on just to sneak in to the postseason. In the latter scenario, the thinking was that they used too much energy getting in and ran out of gas during the playoffs. Maybe this lockout-shortened season is the perfect fit. The Caps had to get hot to get in, but not for nearly as long as in years past. This team is peaking at exactly the the right time and Ovi and the boys seem fresh, not depleted, this time.
3. The Best Players Are Playing Their Best Hockey — Ovechkin was the NHL’s no. 1 star for the month of April, led the league in goals for the season and he’s a serious candidate for the Hart (even Wayne Greztky thinks he should win it). None of those would have likely happened if guys like Backstrom and Green weren’t playing great hockey alongside him. With those three guys in the lineup together this is a very different team, a much better team. With them the Caps are 21-11-3 this season, 20-6-2 in the past 28 games (via @JonDePompa via @ThePeerless).
4. Holtby — Sure, he has nights when he’ll give up five quickly, but there are also nights when he can’t be beat. His attitude seems to be built for the playoffs and he never seems to be rattled by the big stage. Last year’s performance was unexpected, now he’ll build on that. We all know that Lundqvist can steal a series, but so can Holtby. For the first time in years we can be confident that the goalie that starts the playoffs will be the same one that finishes them. The only question: Will he be the goalie that takes the Caps where they’ve never been before?
5. The Right Expectations — The first time Ovi and Gabby drove the Caps to the playoffs we were excited to be there. Since then we’ve expected the Cup every year. This year is somewhere in between. We appreciate the run that got us in, we’re excited to be in the playoffs, we’d love to win the Cup but won’t run everyone out of town if we don’t. The expectations and pressure on the team seem slightly lowered and that might just fit this team’s personality. Oates is in his first shortened season and is getting a bye. This is our team and our coach and will be next year, regardless of what happens over the next few weeks. That could be the perfect formula for playoff success.