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Thom Loverro: Humility may change outlook for Capitals

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Sports,NHL,Capitals,Thom Loverro
The Washington Capitals are sporting a new look this year going into the Stanley Cup playoffs -- humility.

The Caps have been humbled by a season in which their coach, Bruce Boudreau, was fired; their superstar, Alex Ovechkin, has been the target of criticism; and two of their other big names, Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom, have missed significant playing time with injuries.

A franchise icon took over as coach, but Dale Hunter remains a mystery to both fans and players on the bench. And the Caps have one healthy goaltender in Braden Holtby -- who has never started a Stanley Cup playoff game.

As Nicolas Cage said in "Raising Arizona," "It ain't 'Ozzie & Harriet.'?"

Instead of marching into the playoffs as they have in the past -- a high seed with great expectations -- the Caps are crawling into the playoffs, the underdogs as a seventh seed. They face the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Boston Bruins, and their playoff MVP goaltender, Tim Thomas, starting Thursday in Boston.

Maybe this identity will suit them better than that of the uncrowned Stanley Cup champions from the past few seasons.

Maybe the organization finally will realize that a Stanley Cup is not a fait accompli.

Ted Leonsis' Caps have not gotten close to going back to the Stanley Cup finals since their only appearance against the Detroit Red Wings in 1998 -- the year before Leonsis took over the franchise.

Winning wasn't easy when the Caps went into the playoffs as the winners of the Presidents' Trophy, given to the best regular-season team. It's not easy now as they limp into these playoffs.

But this is certainly different.

The Stanley Cup playoffs are as random a postseason as we see in sports, and no one can attest to that more than the top-seeded Caps squad that went out in the first round at the hands of the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens two years ago.

But the ingredient in many of those so-called random upsets is the right guy in the net, and the series against Boston is about to begin with the Caps' top two goaltenders, Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth, out for an unknown amount of time with injuries.

That means, at least to start the series, Washington may have to rely on Holtby -- unless Neuvirth makes a quick recovery from his lower-body injury.

If you are in search of a silver lining, the Caps won three of their four games this year against the Bruins. All four were played in the latter part of the season, which means Backstrom, now back on the ice, missed all of them.

That probably won't strike fear into the hearts of the Bruins.

We will find out, though, what is in the hearts of these humbled Caps.

Examiner columnist Thom Loverro is the co-host of "The Sports Fix" from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on ESPN980 and espn980.com. Contact him at tloverro@washingtonexaminer.com.

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