The 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs are starting, and for the first time in five years, the Capitals are not one of the top three seeds in the Eastern Conference. The Capitals are in unfamiliar territory as the seventh seed, but starting at the bottom will be a big advantage for the team.
With such a high seed the last four seasons, expectations for the Caps were high. During the years of regular season success, however, the Capitals became known for early playoff exits and disappointments.
This season the Capitals barely made the playoffs, and scraped their way into the seventh seed with a win on the final day of the season. The Capitals' 92 points this season is a down year for a team that is used to having well over 100 points by the end of the season.
The regular season was far from successful and resulted in the firing of coach Bruce Boudreau and plenty of finger-pointing by fans and the media. Since the regular season was so bad, the Capitals slide into the playoffs under the radar with low expectations.
The Capitals ended the season on a really good note compared to the rest of the season. Since the return of Sidney Crosby in March, Alex Ovechkin has raised his game to a much higher level. It may be a coincidence, or it could be Ovechkin needed his rival back to give him some extra motivation. Regardless of the reason, Ovechkin has been much better since mid-March.
At the end of the regular season, the Capitals also got back Nicklas Backstrom, who missed over 40 games this season with a concussion. Having Backstrom in the lineup again creates another strong scoring option, and opens the ice up for all of the Capitals' goal scorers.
The Capitals do have some question marks with goaltending. The team is currently using 22-year-old Braden Holtby, who has spent the majority of his young career in the minor leagues. Holtby has been strong when the team has needed him to be, but he is untested in the playoffs.
While the Capitals do have some goaltending issues, they are starting to get all of their other pieces in place. With the offence starting to score again, and the team having some injured players return, a serious playoff run is very possible.
The Capitals are in a completely different situation than they are used to. For the first time in a long time, the Capitals are not a favorite to win anything this season, and many are predicting an early exit for the Caps.
This season the Capitals could rally around their young goaltender and embrace their underdog role in the playoffs.
With the talent that the Capitals have, they are always a threat, and this year a change of seeding could be just what the Capitals need to have playoff success.