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Hey folks, it's that time of year again, time for the best postseason tournament in professional sports: The Stanley Cup Playoffs. A time when every game matters and grown men go so far as to go back to their barbaric roots and grow long, tangled beards in lieu of shaving. Sixteen wins is all a team needs to lift that 34.5 pound glorious hunk of metal over their heads, beam a smile that would require heavy machinery to get rid of, and declare themselves Stanley Cup Champions.

The Washington Capitals are one of those teams who still have the dream, and they find themselves in a very familiar position: Numer Uno in the Eastern Conference. This year's opponent, who will try to do what Montreal did to the Caps last April, are the New York Rangers, a gritty, never-say-die team who gave the Caps fits in the playoffs two years ago until Sergei Federov put them away in Game 7.

The Rangers have had the Capitals number this year, winning 3 of the 4 meetings, including a 6-0 drubbing at the Phone Booth (aka Verizon Center) and a 7-0 defeat in MSG which was seen around the world on HBO's "24/7" and also came smack dab in the middle on Washington's mid season 8-game losing streak.

This is a much different Caps team, however. The trade deadline acquisitions of Marco Sturm, Dennis Wideman, and Jason Arnott, a former NHL captain who scored the game winning goal for the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup Finals in 2000, have solidified an already very capable team. Although Wideman will not be back until at least the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, he did a great job filling the puck-moving/powerplay role of Mike Green while number 52 recovered injury. Green is expected to make his return tomorrow for game one against the Rangers, which is great news for Caps fans. Green is a dynamic scorer from the blueline, but more importantly, has become a sort of microcosm of the Capitals greatly improved defensive prowess this season. The Capitals are fourth best in the NHL in goals allowed per game with a 2.33 average and second in the league in penalty kill at 85.6%. Last year the Caps were ranked 16th and 25th in these categories, respectively. Coach Boudreau has led the charge to become a tougher, more defensive team rather than a high flying offensive team, because everyone knows that defense wins championships.

And boys, I can already see the Cup in the Great 8's hands when it's all said and done.


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Green is expected to make his return tomorrow for game one against the Rangers, which is great news for Caps fans

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