When the pressure is off, can the Capitals win in the playoffs?

In sports, there is always talk about expectations. Some teams and athletes are so good they are expected to do well year after year.

Think of Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in football. Serena Williams and Roger Federer in tennis. Or any basketball team that is lucky enough to have LeBron James.

It’s the same with kids. The best player on a youth-league team is expected to score a lot of baskets or goals. Just as the top student in class is expected to get an A on every test.

Sometimes it’s not easy to be the top dog. That’s because anything other than a championship or a perfect score can seem like a disappointment.

Think of the Washington Nationals. Or Washington’s favorite hard-luck hockey team, the Capitals.

The Caps won the Presidents’ Trophy for both the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 National Hockey League seasons. That’s the award given to the team that has the best record during the regular season.

So the Capitals and their die-hard fans expected the team to do well in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Instead, the team was bounced in a hard-fought series with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round both years.

The Presidents’ Trophy is nice, but it’s not the Stanley Cup. That’s the famous trophy all the National Hockey League teams want to win. And it’s one the Capitals have never won.

As the NHL playoffs begin, there are zero — and I mean zero — expectations that the Caps will win the Stanley Cup or even get very far in the postseason. Instead, all the expectations are on such top teams as the Nashville Predators, Vegas Golden Knights and Boston Bruins.

But maybe this will be the year the Caps surprise some people. After all, they had a solid season with a record of 49-26-7 (49 wins, 26 losses and seven overtime losses). That didn’t earn them the Presidents’ Trophy, but only five teams in the 31-team NHL did better.

The Caps have a strong team. Alex Ovechkin had a terrific season, tallying a league-leading 49 goals. There is also a talented supporting cast led by stickhandling wizards Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom.

The Caps defense is solid. They have two goalies — Philipp Grubauer and Braden Holtby — who could get hot and carry the team through the playoffs. And John Carlson led all NHL defensemen in points (68) and assists (53).

Of course, any playoff run also needs what hockey fans call “puck luck” — a break or two that can change a game or a series.

Who knows? Maybe this is the year that the Caps make some noise in the playoffs. The year when it is least expected.

Read More at The Washington Post

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