Capitals make playoffs; Nationals hopeful as season starts
The Capitals are in the playoffs. It’s a fact; you can breathe a sigh of relief. For a while it seemed it wasn’t going to happen, with the Sabres nipping at their heels after they lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-2 with just two games left to play. Luckily, it was the Caps’ only slip up during their impressive 4-1 run in the last five games of the season.
Washington ended the regular season on a high, outscoring the Eastern Conference top-seeded New York Rangers 4-1 on the road. While the Caps may not be Southeast Division champs this year, they did nab the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. They will also face the Boston Bruins (No. 2 seed and winner in their division title) in the first round of the playoffs.
It’s the first time in two years that the Caps are not the No. 1 seed. It’s the first time in four years that they won’t have home ice advantage in the first round. But maybe that doesn’t matter. For the past four seasons, they have been unable to advance past the conference semi-finals, getting shutout four games to none by the Lightning last year. Perhaps, without the pressure of being number one, they will thrive, as they did at the end of this season. After all, they were the top dog for so long and always went home empty-handed; maybe being the underdog will give them a reason to fight.
The Washington Nationals look good. Of course, the season has just started so that should be taken with a grain of salt. The Yankees and Red Sox both have yet to win a game, but does anyone believe that will last long? At 2-1, the Nats are at the top of the NL East, just one game behind the perfect (so far) New York Mets.
Things are bound to get interesting when the Nats visit Citi Field this week for a three-game series against New York. The highlight of the series will no doubt be its final game, when Johan Santana will take the mound against DC’s hottest commodity, Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg, who reportedly cannot pitch more than 160 innings this season, was in pre-surgery form on opening day when he shut down Chicago’s lineup with 82 pitches over seven innings. He gave up just five hits and one run in Washington’s 2-1 win over the Cubs.
While Santana may no longer be considered the best pitcher in baseball, the two-time Cy Young winner (2004, 2006), is looking to reclaim his former glory. He missed the entire 2011 season due to complications post-shoulder surgery. Santana ended the 2010 season 11-9 with a 2.98 ERA and has struggled with injuries since signing with the Mets. He has been unable to reproduce the domination and control he exhibited during his seven years with the Twins. But the Mets starter had an Opening Day outing to rival Strasburg, pitching five scoreless innings. The matchup between Santana and Strasburg will no doubt set the tone for the NL East rivalry this season.
Although it’s too early to say whether or not this year will be different for the Nationals, one thing is for sure, with Strasburg back on the roster, other teams are taking notice.