by Leslie Silvey
After the shock of being swept in the first round of the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Washington Capitals and their fans were looking forward to starting with a clean slate in 2011-2012. During the long offseason, the team acquired Tomas Vokoun, Troy Brouwer, Joel Ward and former Capital Jeff Halpern.
The Capitals opened the season on the right foot, earning a place in NHL history for becoming one of 10 teams to win their first seven games.
But the rest of the season quickly turned into a rollercoaster ride for Caps’ faithful, with the defense struggling and a string of ugly losses at the hands of the Jets, Maple Leafs, Rangers and Sabres. The blowout in Buffalo on November 26 turned out to be the last stand for popular coach Bruce Boudreau, who was immediately replaced with Capitals legend Dale Hunter of the OHL’s London Knights. Within a week, Boudreau had a new home as bench boss of the struggling Anaheim Ducks.
The storyline for the Caps this season, in addition to prolonged injuries to key players Mike Green and Nick Backstrom, was inconsistency. Working to adapt to a new coach under a more defense-centric system, the team vacillated hot and cold with commanding wins and lackluster losses to lower ranked opponents through mid-season. The Caps lost Nicklas Backstrom to concussion in early January – the result of a high and dirty elbow from former Calgary Flame Rene Bourque. Backstrom was out of action for nearly three months but his recent return has sparked the Caps going into the playoffs and he notched his first goal since returning in the final regular season game.
Both Alex Ovechkin and Dennis Wideman were voted onto the NHL All-Star team in late January but Ovechkin forewent the festivities as he was serving a suspension for a hit on Pittsburgh’s Zbynek Michalek on January 23.
The Capitals fought their way into the 2012 playoffs at the final hour by soundly beating the division champion Florida Panthers. After a season of unpredictable stops and starts, the Capitals know they have their work cut out for them as they look forward to meeting the reigning Cup champions when the playoffs start later this week.