The Capitals are wrapping up the best regular season in team history, so, as expected, there are plenty of bright spots scattered throughout their deep, dangerous roster.
The most encouraging of them all has been the sparkling play of veteran goalie Jose Theodore -- especially when it comes to the Capitals' chances of making this year's postseason the best in their 36-year existence in D.C. to boot.
After a rocky first season with the Capitals a year ago -- and a disastrous playoff performance that registered an 8.1 on the Richter scale -- Theodore has had a fine bounce-back season in 2009-10. The 33-year-old has posted a 27-7-7 record with a 2.87 goals against average and a .908 save percentage for the offensively minded (read: defensively challenged) Capitals.
But for the Capitals to finally sip sweet champagne from the Stanley Cup, Theodore must carry the momentum from his impressive rebound season into this month's playoffs.
Can he really be the guy? That's a burning question down in D.C. In last year's playoffs, Theodore lost his starting job to rookie Semyon Varlamov after he allowed a couple of big-time softies in a 4-3 loss to the Rangers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
It was a frustrating end to a disappointing season, but Theodore says he has put it behind him. Good goalies, truly Cup-caliber ones, have the innate ability to put a bad goal or a bad game -- or a bad playoff series -- behind them. It's erase, rewind and on to the next one.
"It comes with experience," Theodore said Wednesday. "You can't really be down on yourself, because there's no time. I've always [taken] pride in being able to bounce back."
Theodore has since reclaimed his starting gig, but he proved his determination and mental toughness just by returning to the ice -- and playing so well for the first-place Capitals -- after a devastating loss off the ice this offseason.
In August, a month before the Capitals opened training camp, Theodore and his wife lost their 2-month-old son, Chace, to respiratory failure, which was related to the infant's premature birth. "I was so angry and frustrated and sad and everything you can imagine," Theodore told The Washington Post last month. "I was just going on the ice, wanting to practice so hard to make up for lost time."
He had an up-and-down first half, but caught fire in the second half of the season. In January, he started a 19-game unbeaten streak (17-0-2) that came to an end when he got yanked from Sunday's 5-3 loss to Calgary.
At practice Wednesday morning, Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau declined to name his goalie for the playoffs, but expect the red-hot Theodore to be between the pipes.
Theodore says he's ready for the call. "We have such a good team that you want to be part of something special," he said.
With the NHL's top offense in front of him, Theodore won't have to carry the team on his narrow shoulders. He just has to bail out his boys with timely saves whenever they're in a jam. "Even if you're down, every save is big," he said. "You just have to give your team a chance to win."
And if Theodore continues to battle and bounce back in the playoffs, the Capitals will do just that -- win.
Matt Vensel is a content creator for b. Follow him on Twitter, @mattvensel.