Caps’ trip to Cup final was earned, not lucky

If hell is going to freeze over, it’s only fitting that it happen on ice.

In case you forgot or didn’t see it, in a previous column, I compared the Washington Capitals’ chances of winning the Stanley Cup to other extremely unlikely events (i.e. Michael Jordan retiring after Game 3 of the finals to pursue a career in curling, more than a few months going by without a rumor about Jarvis leaving, etc.).

I guess I look pretty stupid, because if the Caps win four more games they’ll be kissing Lord Stanley’s Cup, and I’ll look like a rather big idiot.

I am not about to worsen past remarks by blaming the Caps’ success on dumb luck. They earned the right to play Detroit for the Stanley Cup, even though the Red Wings will clear them off the ice like a zamboni. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist going out on a limb just one more time.)

But in all seriousness, the Caps have truly played like a team that deserves to be in the final. The Caps were at the top of their game Thursday when they clinched the Eastern (Wales) Conference for the first time in their 24-year history.

After Buffalo captain Mike Peca scored the first goal of the game to put his Sabres on top, Washington answered when a Mark Tinordi pass looked so much like a shot that Buffalo goalie Dominik Hasek played it that way before realizing Esa Tikkanen was waiting to redirect it into the net. It’s not easy to make Hasek look that bad.

And after falling behind again in the third period, right wing Peter Bondra brought the Caps back from the brink of defeat once again by beating Hasek on the power play. Then Joe Juneau tucked the puck in the goal from the right doorstep to win the game in overtime. The Caps didn’t score three soft goals on arguably the best goalie in professional hockey – they scored three spectacular goals.

The Caps didn’t get to the Cup finals because of an easy playoff draw, either. The Caps beat the teams that knocked New Jersey and Philadelphia out of the playoffs. In games two, three and four, the Caps scored more goals against Hasek than the Flyers netted against the Dominator in their entire five-game, first-round series. In fact, Caps’ goalie Olaf Kolzig was just as dominating as his Sabres counterpart throughout the playoffs. He has a save percentage of .946 and a goals-against average of 1.69 in the playoffs, both of which are better than Hasek’s numbers.

The offense has been just as impressive. Surprisingly, the Caps’ playoff run has not been a one-man show run by Bondra. Three Washington players have more points than Bondra (Adam Oates, Juneau and Andrei Nikolishin), and six Caps have broken into double digits in scoring. The Caps’ balanced attack throughout the playoffs is something they will need to continue if they want to have a chance against Detroit.

Well, enough of the love-fest for the Caps. They’re a good team, but I still don’t think they are on the same level as the Detroits of the world when it comes to the pressure of the Stanley Cup Finals.

I have certainly made wrong predictions in the past about events in the world of sports, but this one would be pretty embarrassing. So please Caps, for my personal dignity and mental health, could you lose four games? I’d owe you one. Thanks.

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