Capitals riding high

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:21 PM ET

WASHINGTON - Had this been those same old disappointing Capitals of years past, players might have spent Easter hunting for eggs in the morning and tee times in the afternoon.

Not this time.

On this sunny humid Sunday in the U.S. Capitol region, the Caps, enjoying a well-earned day off, sat in front of their TVs and probably cheered when Ville Leino’s overtime goal gave the Philadelphia Flyers a 4-3 victory over the Buffalo Sabres, forcing a seventh and deciding game in that series,

Indeed, things couldn’t be going better in the Eastern Conference for the Caps.

While Alexander Ovechkin and co. get some much needed rest to heal and re-energize after efficiently disposing of the New York Rangers in five games, all three other series in the east will go at least six games, if not seven.

Whether their opponents end up being the Penguins, Lightning, Canadiens or Sabres, the Caps are loving how those teams continue to use up energy and beat each other up just to get out of the first round.

Previous editions of the Caps would not be in this position. They’d be the ones who were still battling in long series - if they hadn’t been eliminated already.

That was then. This is now.

“This is a different team,” forward Nicklas Backstrom said.

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Here are 10 reasons why.

10. DENNIS THE MENACE

No one welcomes this break more than puck-moving Dennis Wideman, who hopes to resume practising with his teammates this week after rapidly recovering from a hematoma and compartment syndrome. Wideman, who spend almost two weeks in hospital earlier this month, has been skating on his own and would be a huge boost to the Caps lineup.

9. SPECIAL SPECIAL TEAMS

At a time of year when special teams rule, Caps penalty killers allowed just one power play goal against the Rangers.

8. REST STOP

The playoffs are a marathon, not a sprint. As a result, going at least five days between games this week is a huge bonus. “Take the rest when you can because the opportunities are few and far between,” forward Jason Arnott said.

7. ALEXANDER THE GREAT, Part 2

Through one round, Alexander Semin has ditched his role as the post-season’s invisible man, scoring the OT winner in Game 1 and the series-clincher in Game 5.

6. GREEN DAY

Remember when defenceman Mike Green was accused of being a defensive liability and a selfish player? Now he’s fearlessly diving in front of slapshots and taking pucks in the head. Maybe the kid has finally matured.

5. MIKEY LIKES IT!

Just eight goals allowed in five games. Two overtime wins, And, more importantly, no crappy goals surrendered, something Flyer fans can not relate to. Indeed, cool-as-a-cucumber rookie goalie Michal Neuvirth seems to be the real deal.

4. ARNIE’S ARMY

He has taken the enigmatic Semin under his wing. He brings size and experience up front. And he brings the experience of a Cup winner. In the end, the addition of Arnott has been huge.

3. CHOKE THIS!

Often labelled post-season chokers, former Caps teams would almost certainly have crumbled after being down 3-0 to the Rangers after 40 minutes in Game 4. But this group responded by scoring three third-period goals before winning in overtime. In the end, it could end up being the turning point for this franchise.

2. ALEXANDER THE GREAT, Part 1

Seems reports of Ovechkin’s demise have been exaggerated. After posting the poorest regular season stats of his career, Ovechkin leads the Caps in postseason scoring with six points. Resting him for a couple of weeks down the stretch seems to be paying huge dividends.

1. GABBY’S NOT SHABBY

For a guy whose job was rumoured to be on the line, coach Bruce Boudreau showed some big stones by taking such an offensively-gifted team and turning it into a defence-first outfit last December. The most impressive part? Even his superstars are buying into it, sacrificing individual stats for a shot at the Cup. More than anything else, it shows that the players believe in their coach.


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