This week's edition of Chain Reactions deals with the Capitals, who now know who they will need to beat in order to make a 2011 NHL Playoffs run and win the Stanley Cup. Also, John Wall's rookie season is almost over, and he's already over losing. Finally, here's more evidence that Nationals' prized prospect Bryce Harper is really good.
The Wait is Over
It seems like the Capitals have had to wait
forever a year to get a shot at post season redemption after last seasons disappointing first round loss to Montreal. They will have to beat the eighth-seeded New York Rangers this time around. During the regular season, the Rangers took three of four games against the Caps.
Head to Head this season:
Caps 5-3 win @ MSG on 11/9/2010, Rangers 7-0 win @MSG 12/12/2010, Rangers 2-1 win in shootout @ Verizon Center on 1/24/11, Rangers 6-0 win @ Verizon Center on 2/25/11
Plenty has changed since the two last met in late February. The Caps have made some notable trades, most notably bringing aboard Jason Arnott from the New Jersey Devils. Superstar Alex Ovechkin is also playing like Alex Ovechkin once again, and despite the down numbers in goals, he still leads the league in even-strength points.
The two franchises will meet for the fifth time in the playoffs, having split the previous four meetings. The Capitals took the most recent meeting in 2009, when they rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win the series 4-3. However, don't look for the teams success two years ago to have much bearing on this years match up.
"They were the young guys, so the biggest difference is going to be age, and the goaltending is completely different," Bruce Boudreau said.
"I'll tell you what, experience is the greatest teacher," Boudreau said. "You know what to expect, you're not going in awestruck. We'll be going in just like them, just hungry, and the guys that have played it before know how much it gets ramped up in the playoffs."
History has not been kind to the Capitals this time of year. The franchise's last deep playoff run came in 1998 when they made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. Since that magical run, the franchise has been to the postseason six times and only advanced out of the first round once, in 2009 with their win over the Rangers.
Injuries could have an impact in this series. The Capitals will be without defenseman Dennis Wideman and perhaps Mike Green, who has not played since the last time the teams met in late February. Even if Green does play, what kind of impact will he have after missing over a month? The Rangers, meanwhile, will be without Ryan Callahan (tied for 2nd on team in points with 48) with a broken ankle.
Bold Prediction (not really)
The Capitals' lack of experience in goal is usually the first thing fans and media alike bring up when it comes to potential problems in the postseason. Rookie Michael Neuvrith has been fantastic in the regular season, but he is the great unknown. If he trips up, Bruce Bodreau will not be afraid to put in Semyon Varlamov, who led the Caps past the Rangers in 2009. The Rangers, on the other hand, have one of the worlds best netminders in Hendrik Lundqvist.
However, unlike years past the Capitals have shown the ability to win ugly and play what can only be described as playoff hockey. They can still kick into high gear and beat teams in a more wide open game too. The multiple styles and sacrifices the team made during the regular season should serve them well in the playoffs. Ovechkin and Mike Knuble are hitting their stride right now, and the addition of Arnott should serve them well this time of year. I will take the Caps in six over the Rangers.
John Wall Believes Wizards Will Win Next Year
As the Wizards get closer to wrapping up another lottery-bound season, rookie sensation John Wall sees it as a learning experience. He also sees losing not lasting much longer.
"That's the toughest part for me," Wall said of losing. "I'm not getting that stuck in my head or want that to be something I do for the rest of my career. But for one year that I have this year, it's pretty tough, but next year, we're going to have it all changed."
Wall has his eyes on his own championship(s). "I have to just stay motivated. I look at Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. They was 3-35 at one point a few years ago and look at them now, top four, top five team in the Western Conference," Wall said. "This year was a good learning experience for me."
I would feel better about Wall's confidence if I knew the Wizards were going to get Arizona's Derrick Williams in June's draft. I would also feel better if I actually thought there would be NBA labor peace this summer.
More Evidence Bryce Harper is Awesome
Plenty of prognosticators picked the Nationals to pass the New York Mets this season and this weekend, they took 2 of 3 on the road from the Mets. The good news with the Nationals doesn't end there. MASN Sports' Byron Kerr points out the franchise's farm system is getting plenty of praise these days, led by Bryce Harper's top ranking.
Jim Callis, executive editor of Baseball America, says, "ranking prospects ultimately comes down to one simple factor: would you trade one guy for the other? We wouldn't trade Bryce Harper for any other minor leaguer, even Mike Trout, hence his ranking as the No. 1 prospect in the game."