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Caps have season to remember

by Robert Picarello

Nicklas Backstrom posted 69 points as a rookie for the Capitals, the second-highest total for a first-year player in Washington history behind Alex Ovechkin.
WATCH Nicklas Backstrom highlights 
The 2007-08 season was a wild and wacky ride for the Washington Capitals.

After starting the year 6-14-1 — a record that resulted in the firing of coach Glen Hanlon — the Capitals turned their season around under new bench boss Bruce Boudreau.

On Nov. 22, 2007, Boudreau became the 14th coach in Washington history, taking over a club that sat in the NHL basement when he accepted the post. Boudreau didn't waste any time righting the Capitals' ship, leading his new team to an unforgettable overtime victory against the Flyers in his NHL debut in Philadelphia on Nov. 23.

In his 61 games behind the Caps' bench, Boudreau led Washington to a 37-17-7 record, ending the regular season with a seven-game winning streak that enabled the Capitals to win the Southeast Division. Boudreau became the fastest coach to 20 victories (34 games) and 30 victories (53 games) in franchise history. Under Boudreau, Washington became the first team in NHL history to come back from 14th or 15th place at midseason to make the playoffs. The Caps also became only the second team in League history to finish a season in first place in its division immediately after three or more consecutive last-place finishes.

Not even a disappointing first-round Playoff loss could spoil a season that marked a revival for hockey in Washington, where sellouts became the norm in the final two months as the team made its surge.

At the conclusion of the season, Boudreau became the second Capitals coach to win the Jack Adams Award, which is presented by the NHL Broadcasters' Association to the coach adjudged to have contributed the most to his team's success. Bryan Murray was the only other Washington coach to win the prestigious award; he got it after guiding the Caps to a 48-27-5 record in 1983-84.

But Boudreau wasn't the only reason the Caps had a memorable season. Alex Ovechkin also had a lot to do with the team's success. Ovechkin not only led the club in scoring, he also posted a League-high 65 goals and 112 points to claim both the Art Ross and Rocket Richard trophies. Ovechkin scored 51 of his goals in the 61 games after Boudreau took over and was a big reason for the surge that carried Washington into the playoffs.

Ovechkin finished the season leading all NHL players in power-play goals (22) and game-winning goals (11). He also wound up setting the single-season NHL record for goals by a left wing, surpassing the 63 Luc Robitaille scored for the Los Angeles Kings in 1992-93. Ovechkin's 65 goals were the most scored by NHL player since Mario Lemieux had 69 in 1995-96.

For his outstanding efforts, Ovechkin was also awarded the Lester B. Pearson Award as the League MVP as voted by the players and the Hart Trophy as MVP as voted by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association.

While Ovechkin was one of the main reasons the Caps qualified for the postseason for the first time since 2002-03, the club couldn't have had a successful season without the outstanding efforts of players such as Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green and Cristobal Huet.

Backstrom finished second among NHL rookies with 69 points (14 goals and 55 assists) in 82 games. The center finished three points behind Chicago's Patrick Kane, who won the Calder Trophy as the NHL Rookie of the Year. Backstrom's point total was the second-highest by a Capitals' rookie in franchise history, behind only Ovechkin's 106 during the 2005-06 season. His 55 assists set the club record for a rookie, surpassing Ovechkin's freshman mark by one.

Huet was money in the bank almost every time he skated into the Washington crease after coming from Montreal at the NHL trade deadline. Huet appeared in 13 games for the Caps, posting an 11-2-0 record with a 1.63 goals-against average, .936 save percentage and two shutouts. The former Canadiens' netminder backstopped the Caps to the postseason and a Southeast Division title by going 3-0-0 with a 1.00 GAA and .955 save percentage in the final week of the season. Huet ended the regular season by winning nine straight games for the Capitals, including the season finale, where he stopped 25 shots in the team’s 3-1 win against the Florida Panthers on April. 5.

When Boudreau took over, apparently Green meant go, as the young defender posted 15 goals and 47 points in 60 games, including closing out the regular season with a five-game point scoring streak. Green not only finished third on Washington in scoring, the 22-year-old also led all NHL defensemen with 18 goals. The Alberta native finished the year ranked seventh in the League among defensemen with 56 points. Green and Ovechkin became the first teammates to lead the NHL in goals and goals by a defenseman, respectively, since Hall of Famers Lemieux and Paul Coffey did for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1988-89. Green's point total made him the highest-scoring Capitals defenseman since Sergei Gonchar had 18 goals and 67 points in the 2002-03 season.

After a slow start, the '07-08 season turned out to be a fun-filled one for the Caps. Despite the Playoff loss, the future looks bright for the franchise with Boudreau behind the bench and Ovechkin and Green leading the offense and defense. The only sad note to come out of the '07-08 campaign is that Olaf Kolzig may have played his last game for the only NHL franchise he has suited up for in his career. While the veteran goaltender doesn't officially become an ex-Cap until July 1, all signs point to the free agent puck-stopper wearing another team's colors next season. Kolzig closed out the '07-08 season going 15-6-3 in his last 25 starts, posting the ninth 20-win season of his career.


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