You’ll see Andre Burakovsky’s goal being referred to as a goal of the year candidate, because A) it was very pretty, and B) hockey writers have a distinct lack of pithy descriptors for really good goals. It’s sort of silly, because there’s no actual official “goal of the year” award! But at least it makes more sense to do this now, in April, when we know what the competition for the nonexistent award looks like, than to do it in October. And now that my early-morning qualming has sucked any possible joy out of watching Burakovsky’s goal, here it is!
My highest praise is that at full speed, you can’t even tell what Burakovsky did to Blues defenseman Vince Dunn, beyond utterly undressing him (metaphorically). On the replay, though, you see he went between his own legs before beating Jake Allen high. Burakovsky wasn’t even totally sure about it.
“I was just trying to get a puck around him,” Burakovsky said. “I wasn’t really thinking too much. It just happened. It worked out pretty good. I got lucky on the shot, too.”
It proved the game-winner in Washington’s 4-2 victory over St. Louis, which is a curious result because the Blues needed this game desperately and the Capitals not at all. St. Louis is one point back of Colorado for the West’s second wild card, with a game in hand. The Caps, meanwhile, clinched the Metro on Sunday and were resting some banged-up players and giving minutes to some young guys.
Washington enters the playoffs with a slightly different vibe from recent years, and given their run of disappointing postseasons, that can only be a good thing. (Every spring I taunt the Capitals fans in my life by telling them “The Caps look really good this year! Maybe this time will be different!”)
For one, the expectations aren’t so high. There was no Presidents’ Trophy this year, and D.C. will have the lowest point total of any division winner. Sure, maybe that means this team isn’t as good as previous editions, but fat lot of good that’s historically done them. This team won’t necessarily be expected to go further than the second round, and certainly wouldn’t be a favorite against Boston or Tampa, but this is not exactly a team that’s performed well as the favorite in recent years. If pressure is a real thing—it is—maybe this year’s roster will be able to play their game without feeling it.
For another, there’s going to be a different goalie this year. Philipp Grubauer is nominally the backup, but he’s played significantly better than Braden Holtby this season, with a .925 save percentage to Holtby’s sub-league average .908—despite this sexy double save last night. The only possibly logic for starting Holtby is his playoff experience, which isn’t much of an argument, because Holtby has been the man for the last five Washington playoff runs, all of which ended in the second round or earlier. (Holtby’s actually been perfectly fine in playoff action, where play generally tightens up, so you can’t blame him over the skaters. Though he was certainly knocked around last year.)
Grubauer, the 26-year-old German, has been better in every stat, fancy or otherwise, and it’d be a huge shock not to see him in net for Game 1. But his leash probably won’t be very long; this definitely feels like one of those teams that could go back and forth with its netminders during a playoff run. Which would imply a deep run. Which would be quite a new look for the Caps.