The Capitals will put their eight-game winning streak on the line tonight against the Canadiens, and should they pick up a win in Montreal and if the Flyers lose tonight, they will overtake their nemeses from Philadelphia for the top spot in the East.
The Capitals' caliber of play with a dozen games left is light years away from what we saw a year ago when they moon-walked their way into the playoffs and then to D.C.-area golf courses. They are the hottest team in hockey, and teams with momentum heading into the playoffs are especially dangerous in the NHL.
And it's not just that the Capitals are winning games right now, it's that they are winning close ones they weren't capable of winning in postseasons past. Seven of those eight wins were by a single goal, and the other was a 5-0 shutout. That prompted veteran forward Mike Knuble to tell The Washington Post that the Capitals aren't "just kids anymore with the let's-fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants attitude and no responsibility."
But Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau, who always goes with the hot hand between the pipes, must make a critical decision in the coming weeks: Which of their three young goaltenders will get the nod for the playoffs?
Braden Holtby, who was named the NHL's first star last week, is on fire right now. But I agree with The Post's Tarik El-Bashir, who said in this excellent post that the Capitals need to go with Michael Neuvirth. Neuvirth proved he could handle the pressure when he led the Capitals' American Hockey League affiliates, the Hershey Bears, to back-to-back Calder Cup titles in 2009 and 2010.