For so much of the previous five postseasons, there was an incredible amount of focus on how the Washington Capitals play hockey.
(3) CAPITALS vs. RANGERS (6) - ECQF
Familiar FoesBy Corey Masisak and Dave Lozo
For the third straight year, the Capitals and Rangers meet in the postseason. NHL.com provides a complete head-to-head breakdown.
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So many words written and uttered about the team's style of play, and whether or not it was conducive to succeeding when the stakes are at the highest -- in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. When Bruce Boudreau was in charge, the team was considered too offensive. When Dale Hunter was in charge, the Capitals were thought to be too passive.
With Adam Oates in charge, the Caps are ... well, they're a normal hockey team, and no pundit -- be it on television or in print -- is saying much of anything about how Washington plays. That's the biggest reason the Capitals will win the Stanley Cup, ending years of regular-season success followed by playoff failure.
The Capitals don't spend time answering questions anymore about "the system." They don't waste time trying to defend the philosophies of their coach, because they don't have to.
Washington, after an awful start to the 2012-13 season, has found what general manager George McPhee was looking for when he named Oates as the coach. The Capitals are aggressive, but not in a way that leaves them too open on defense. They score goals like it is 2009, and yet they can defend as well.
Alex Ovechkin is a dominant scorer again, just as Nicklas Backstrom has rejoined the group of elite setup men. Defenseman Mike Green is back to his old tricks at the offensive end, but the tutelage of Oates has him playing well at both ends of the ice and free from over-thinking what type of player he should be.
They don't have Alexander Semin anymore, but Martin Erat, Mike Ribeiro and Troy Brouwer are on par with Semin, Sergei Fedorov and Brooks Laich as the best second line the club has had during the Ovechkin era.
Not only is there stability in the team's style of play and trust in the coaching staff, but the Capitals have stability in net as well. Barring injury, Braden Holtby will be the first guy to start the first two games of back-to-back postseasons for the Capitals since Olie Kozlig's prime.
Given the way other teams have played of late, it is not hard to argue the Capitals are the second-best bet in the Eastern Conference as the postseason begins. Given their new brand of confidence, which doesn't include nagging doubts about being too aggressive or too passive, the Capitals will ride their late-season surge all the way to the Stanley Cup for the first time in team history.