New year, same dilemma

April 10, 2011 | Paul Hoke

A really good friend, and co-worker of mine is a Baltimore native.  He roots for the Orioles, takes his son to Wrestling events at 1st Mariner Arena, as well as Baltimore Blast games.  But he has a deep seeded character flaw…he’s also a big Philly sports fan.

In the past, his Philly sports fanhood was only centered around the Eagles and Phillies.  Over the course of the past couple of years, as they have went on lucky playoff runs, he has also thrown his support to the disgusting Flyers.  That, coupled with his hatred of everything Washington, has made for some pretty interesting hockey debates in the workplace.  And, as most Philly fans tend to be, he’s wrong.

Now, he’s a novice hockey fan who was never able to really wrap himself around the game.  I think, initially, as the Flyers were winning, he would banter with me about the Capitals, just to get under my skin.  But the more we talked the game of hockey, it seemed the more he wanted to learn.  So while I would defend against barbs, solely lobbed against me because he hates Washington, my friend started to develop a genuine interest in the game of hockey, and the Philadelphia Flyers.  It all kind of peaked for him last season when the Caps choked in the first round against Montreal, and the Flyers staged an even more improbable comeback against the Boston Bruins, who lead 3 games to 0 before watching Philly storm back and win the series 4-3.  That propelled them into the Eastern Conference Finals, where they dispatched the Cinderella Canadiens and found themselves in the Stanley Cup Finals where Patrick Kane and the Chicago Blackhawks did the greatest service to the world of sports and beat Philly in six games.  Have I mentioned that I hate the Flyers?

Now, after the first round collapse to the Canadiens last season, the oldest adage in sports came back to haunt the Caps.  They don’t play these games on paper.  On paper, the Capitals were hockey’s best team last year.  President’s Trophy winners, top overall seed, best record with one of the game’s best players in Alex Ovechkin.  No way they weren’t going to challenge for the Stanley Cup.  But they don’t play these games on the stat sheets at nhl.com, or on page 6 of The Sun’s sports pages.  Montreal was a bad matchup from the start for them last year, and that was on full display in the series’ final three games as Jaroslav Halak found himself in another world, holding the Caps to just 3 goals in the final three games.

Needless to say, it’s been a long year.

When Philly started hot, and Caps began to play sub .500 hockey just before Christmas, the talk started.  His Flyers seemed to have a stranglehold on the conference’s number one spot while the Caps sat in second place in their own division behind Tampa Bay.  For most of the year, the Caps held the #5 seed, and almost seemed destined to play Pittsburgh (#4) in the first round.  Maybe that wouldn’t have been a bad thing, though.  With the Pens missing Sidney Crosby, the Caps actually had Pitts’ number this year.  But just before the trading deadline, you started to see the Caps come to like a little bit.  Better defense, timely offense, and very good goaltending started that Caps in a run that saw them climb over Tampa Bay, which was starting a last season slide, and into the #2 seed behind Philly.  Then, as I pointed out to my friend a few weeks, Philly started to show signs of weakening.  They weren’t getting the goal tending that they had been, they were giving up too many cheap goals, and not scoring at the same pace they had throughout much of the year.  Then, with just a week remaining in the season, the Caps overtook the Flyers for the #1 seed, and held on to it, beating out Philly 107 points to 106 points.

Not a President’s Trophy, but another #1 seed.

Great.

Don’t get me wrong, I would much rather see my Caps enter the postseason hot, they seem to be peaking at the right time, and with the #1 seed, then having to fight and claw to cling to one of the final playoff spots, but when I saw who the #8 seed was going to be.  I felt that old feeling of deja vu all over again.

The New York Rangers.

Uggghhhh.

Another year, another top seed, another bad matchup.

Of all the teams in the East, the Rangers are truly a team the Caps have not matched up well with, not just this season, but the past few seasons.  In 2010-11, the Caps record in their four matchups was 1-2-1, and all while being outscored, 18-6.  That includes a 6-0 drubbing back in February in one of the worst games of the season.  The Rangers have holes, but they can also score in bunches, and that is something that could expose one of the Capitals major weaknesses.  Though it’s been better, their defense is still somewhat shaky at times, and they often leave their goalie facing odd man rushes.

I would have preferred Buffalo.  Or Carolina.  Or hell, even Montreal.  But the Rangers scare me.  And not just because they give the Caps fits, but also because if they squander yet another #1 seed…

…work will be hell.

But let’s think positive, and Go CAPS!!!!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=13YovsXTL-A[/youtube]

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