NHL Playoffs: 4 Reasons to Believe Washington Capitals Can Play Spoiler

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For the Washington Capitals, it's better late than never.

After languishing in mediocrity for a bulk of the regular season, they've claimed a new, successful playing style that is giving the Boston Bruins fits.

Nicklas Backstrom's overtime winner split the series 1-1 heading back to the nation's capital, but more importantly, it appears the Caps are playing a defensive brand of hockey and buying into the team mentality.

Washington has now won nine of its last 11 games, dating back to the regular season, choosing exactly the right time to find a groove.

This Capitals team, not the one from the regular season or playoffs past, seems as though it can really challenge for a Stanley Cup.

Here are four reasons to believe the Washington Capitals can play spoiler in the 2012 playoffs.

 

1. Braden Holtby

Who? Braden Holtby?

With goaltending injuries plaguing the Capitals, they were forced to call up Holtby from their AHL affiliate in Hershey to start Game 1 of the playoffs.

No pressure, right? Well, apparently not.

All the 22-year-old from Lloydminster, Saskatchewan has done is stop 72 of 74 shots in the first two games of this series, surrendering just two goals to a Bruins team that ranked third in the NHL in scoring in the regular season.

Holtby has stood tall in his first two NHL playoff games, both of which went to overtime. If he remains a stalwart between the pipes, the Caps can win this series.

 

2. Nicklas Backstrom's Return

Rene Bourque's cheap shot on Nicklas Backstrom in early January forced the Capitals center to miss 40 regular season games. He did come back for a few games at the end of the regular season, and now it seems that he's finding his stride.

Backstrom notched more than 100 points just a couple seasons ago and is a pivotal influence to the Capitals offense. A nifty setup man, Backstrom not only boosts Alex Ovechkin's play but makes the power play more potent and gives the team two legitimate scoring lines.

 

3. Team Unity

In the first two games of this series with Boston, we haven't seen Capitals players chirping at each other or their coaches on the bench. We also haven't seen guys gliding back into their own defensive zone or taking plays off, as they've been known to do in the past.

What we have seen is star players exhibiting gritty play, including blocked shots by Alexander Semin. Yes, that Alexander Semin.

If these first two games are a trend and not an anomaly, then the Capitals can be successful. To this point, the Capitals are in lock step with the Bruins in terms of tough, playoff-style hockey.

 

4. A Quiet Alex Ovechkin

To this point in the series, Alex Ovechkin has only notched one assist. While there haven't been a lot of goals between the Capitals and Bruins, one assist is not exactly "Ovechkin-like."

So why is this good news for the Caps? Let me explain.

In simplest terms, the Caps are just one overtime play from being up 2-0 in this series, without Ovechkin playing his best hockey. If he ascends back to his normal level of play, alongside the comebacks of Backstrom and Mike Green, the Capitals become a very dangerous out for any team in the 2012 playoffs.

Ryan O'Leary is a writer and researcher for Bleacher Report's Video Production Department with seven years of experience in sports media. 

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