- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 11, 2017

As long as the Capitals remain without a Stanley Cup, questions will always surround Washington if this is “the year.”

The Capitals now are back-to-back winners of the Presidents’ Trophy and have largely emphasized time-and-time again that it doesn’t mean anything without playoff success.

But at the same time, the Capitals have a foundational core in place for a run — from star (Alex Ovechkin) to one of the league’s best goalies (Braden Holtby) to plenty of talented players in between (Nicklas Backstrom, Kevin Shattenkirk, T.J. Oshie).

It’s why Las Vegas, as well as many NHL experts, perceive the Caps to be one of the top favorites to win the Stanley Cup this season. Bovada, a sports book, list the Capitals at +450, meaning that a bettor would win an additional $450 to their $100, second only to the +400 given the Chicago Blackhawks.

History, though, has proven difficult for the Caps to even get past the second round. There could be familiar foes for the Capitals, as well as new ones, that stand in their way.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Odds to win the Cup: +800

Season series with Capitals: 2-2

When they’d meet: second round

The toughest road to the finals could be the team that demoralized the Capitals last year with Sidney Crosby and the Penguins. The Penguins, however, have no easy path to being repeat champs due to NHL seeding that matched them with the third best team in the conference in the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Even with the mountain of injuries, the Penguins will get a major upgrade with forward Evgeni Malkin (upper body) set to soon return from injury. Each team knows how to score against each other with the Capitals scoring an astonishing seven goals in two of their games against Pittsburgh this season, while the Penguins scored eight goals against Washington in one of the best games of the regular season.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Odds: +1000

Season series: 3-2, Capitals

When they’d meet: second round

The Blue Jackets have been in a free fall to end the regular season, losing eight of their last 11. Still, they have a solid core with Cam Atkinson, Brandon Saad and Alexander Wennberg. This is the same team that has shown enough offensive firepower throughout the season that led to a 16-game winning streak, which coincidentally was ended by the Capitals.

Montreal Canadiens

Odds: +1400

Season series: 2-1, Capitals

When they’d meet: conference finals

Since former Bruins coach Claude Julien took over midseason, the Canadiens have gone 16-8 and goaltender Carey Price has righted the ship. The offseason trade for defensemen Shea Webber has paid off as well. Every risk the Canadiens has taken this season has seemed to paid off, making them an even riskier team to face.

And, always lurking

Toronto Maple Leafs: It would be disrespectful to automatically rule out Washington’s first round opponent and if they pull the upset, that would mean Toronto’s young guns — specifically rookie star Auston Matthews — rise to the occasion.

New York Rangers: For old times sake, the Rangers have eliminated the Capitals from the second round three times since 2011 and have the speed to give them trouble again. (would meet in conference finals).

Boston Bruins: Boston has one of the best special teams in the league with being ranked first in penalty kill and seventh in the power play, while also being a strong team in puck possession. (would meet in conference finals).

Ottawa Senators: The Senators get a big boost with goalie Craig Anderson has returning just in time for the playoffs after missing most of the season supporting his wife’s battle with cancer. (would meet in conference finals).

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