Southeast Division Champions!!
The Washington Capitals completed their unbelievable run from worst to first to take the Southeast Division title and storm into the playoffs as the number three seed in the Eastern Conference with a 3-1 victory over the Florida Panthers tonight at the Verizon Center. The Caps won 11 of their last 12 games, this after a seemingly crushing 3-2 loss to Pittsburgh back on March 9th when Nicklas Backstrom accidentally put the puck in his own net with under 30 seconds left in that game. But Washington has been resilient all season and rallied back to make the playoffs showing down the stretch that this team is one of the best in the league right now.
If the Flyers do not beat Pittsburgh tomorrow then the Caps will play the Ottawa Senators in the first round of the playoffs, which will begin at the Verizon Center this week (likely Thursday or Friday since the Wizards are home on Wednesday and Saturday). If the Flyers win, then it is Caps-Philly in the opening round also starting in DC.
The primary heroes tonight were Alexander Semin and Sergei Fedorov. Semin set up Fedorov for his beautiful wrister over Panthers goalie Craig Anderson in the second period to give the Caps the lead and then Semin sealed the deal in the third with a wicked power play blast past Anderson to make it 3-1 and start the party down in DC. Semin played one of his best games as a Cap this evening. Alexander Ovechkin was held pointless tonight but the Great #8 was once again all over the ice and he no doubt will take home the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s MVP in June.
Coach of the Year in the NHL will also be an easy choice as Bruce Boudreau should win the Jack Adams trophy for inheriting a 6-14-1 last place team on Thanksgiving morning and taking it to the Southeast Division title. Boudreau changed the team’s system to a more aggressive forechecking and skating one and more importantly, he convinced the players that they were good and you could see the confidence continue to build and build as the season went on. This team enjoys playing together and the chemistry is amazing. When the team hit a temporary lull in February, GM George McPhee did his part bringing in Fedorov, Matt Cooke, and goalie Cristobal Huet and that allowed this team to take it to the next level down the stretch. Huet has now won his last nine starts as a Capital and is 11-2 overall since being traded to Washington on February 26th.
Quick NHL Update
I’ll have more on the Caps and the NHL playoff matchups over the next several days but the 16 teams that will play for Lord Stanley’s Cup are now set. In the Eastern Conference it is Pittsburgh, Montreal, Washington, New Jersey, New York, Ottawa, Boston, and Philadelphia. In the Western Conference it is Detroit, San Jose, Minnesota, Anaheim, Dallas, Colorado, Calgary, and Nashville. The seedings are not totally finalized yet and the Penguins-Flyers game will determine the #1 seed in the East.
Also, special congratulations go out to Nashville Predators GM David Poile and Head Coach Barry Trotz for making the playoffs after enduring a change in ownership and subsequent fire sale on players last spring and summer. What a job the two of them did but unfortunately for Trotz he will be overshadowed by Boudreau for coach of the year in the NHL.