This is the Capitals year

NHL: Washington Capitals at Toronto Maple Leafs

Since drafting Alex Ovechkin in 2004, the Washington Capitals have never made it past the second round of the playoffs. In that same time, they have won the Presidents’ Trophy, which goes to the team with the best record in the NHL, three times, including the past two seasons. Even though Capitals have one of the best players in the NHL, they have never had playoff success, until now.

2017 will be the year for the Capitals. They have home ice advantage throughout the playoffs and have a very clear path to the title.

Their first round matchup will be against the Toronto Maple Leafs, who won the second wild card. The Capitals are 2-1 against the Maple Leafs this season and have 23 more points. The Leafs have been led by Rookie of the Year favorite, Auston Matthews (69 points and 40 goals), but are lacking talent after the young star to compete with Washington. Led by Braden Holtby and Ovechkin, the Capitals should not have much trouble at all.

The Capitals second round matchup could be their hardest of the playoffs. The winner of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets series will meet the Capitals in the second round.

The Blue Jackets will be the easier of the two opponents for the Capitals. They have won the past three games against the Blue Jackets and are outscoring the Blue Jackets 10-3 in those three games. The Blue Jackets also only have scored eight goals in their past five games and lost six of their past seven games. They are struggling right now and if they make it past the Penguins the Capitals offense should be able to handle them easily.

The Penguins would be the real challenge. They are the defending Stanley Cup Champions and have won the past two playoff series against the Capitals in the Ovechkin era. The two teams have split the season series, but have not played since January. This is the year for the Capitals to oust the Penguins. The Penguins are just starting to get healthy after an injury-riddled season, but will be without their star defenseman Kris Letang, who averaged 28:53 per game last year in the playoffs and is a great puck-moving defensemen.

The Penguins will also be battered after a series with the hard-hitting Blue Jackets, who always seem to wear the Penguins down. The Capitals also helped their chances by acquiring star defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk to bolster their solid defensive line. It seems like everything has aligned to give the Capitals a great shot at beating the Penguins.

Once the Capitals make it to the Eastern Conference Finals, they will face a team from the easier Atlantic Conference bracket. There are two teams with over 100 points in the bracket and they play in the first round, the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens. They have also won the past four meeting against these two teams. The Capitals will not have anything to worry about.

Even though the Capitals have struggled immensely in the playoffs for the past decade, the stars have aligned this year. They finally have assembled a team to beat the Penguins and should have relatively easy matchups in the other rounds. Ovechkin will finally lift the Prince of Wales Trophy and move on to play for the Stanley Cup.