Among the dozens of theories people have when trying to explain Washington's playoff struggles, one theory is that the team has never gotten hot at the right time. This was especially true in the past two seasons. The Caps won the Presidents' Trophy both years and by a fairly wide margin meaning that in the last few days and weeks, there was not a whole lot to play for. Instead of peaking, the Caps were on cruise control.
This year, that is not the case.
Washington did not actually clinch a playoff berth until March 29 or the division until April 1. There was still a lot to play for in the final month and the Capitals played arguably their best hockey of the season, winning 12 of their last 15 games. They managed to do so while, for the most part, rotating between goalies Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer and they also avoided any major injuries. The only injury on the roster is Jay Beagle and, as of Saturday, Barry Trotz believed Beagle would be ready for the start of the playoffs.
Washington did not win the Presidents' Trophy this season. They did not finish atop the conference standings and their roster does not look as deep as in previous years. But you could actually argue that this year's team is better prepared heading into the playoffs. It's not so much because they have won 12 of 15—the Caps won 11 of their last 15 heading into the postseason last year—but the fact that they were faced with meaningful games late in the season and elevated their game.