A Capitals Fans' Guide to the rest of the 2021 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs

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A Caps Fans' Guide to the rest of the '21 Stanley Cup Playoffs originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

The Capitals ended another season with a disappointing first-round exit, but that doesn’t mean all playoff enjoyment is lost: These players once rocked the red and they are still in the running to win the Stanley Cup!

Here's a look at some former D.C. fan favorites most of them were, anyway, with one notable exception whose teams are still alive and well in the postseason. 

Colorado Avalanche – Andre Burakovsky, Philipp Grubauer

Former Capitals teammates and current Colorado Avalanche teammates, Andre Burakovsky and Philipp Grubauer, were both part of the 2018 Stanley Cup winning team and will always have a special place in DC fans’ hearts. Now they have a chance to win another Cup.

Burakovsky, 26, was selected by the Capitals 23rd overall in the 2013 NHL Draft. He scored his first NHL goal in his debut in October 2014 becoming the first Caps player to do so since Alex Ovechkin.

Burakovsky quickly found his place on the team, with Nicklas Backstrom calling him, ‘my baby boy.” Caps fans loved his bromance with Tom Wilson and Michael Latta.

He underwent surgery on his thumb after injuring it in a game in October 2017, missing 20 games. He then missed an additional 10 playoff games that season after getting injured again during the Caps’ first round series with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Burakovsky struggled with injuries, point production and – after getting scratched in Game 5 of the conference final in the 2018 playoffs – self-doubt. He redeemed himself by scoring the second and third goals in the Caps’ 4-0 win in Game 7 against Tampa, to send them to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1998. He had three assists in five games against Vegas to help the Caps win their first Stanley Cup.

After the Caps’ first-round exit in 2019, Burakovsky was traded to the Avalanche that June. He has played a key role on a young Avs team that looks so far like the best team in the playoffs. He has almost doubled his point production compared to his last two seasons with the Caps despite playing fewer games.

Burakovsky ended the 2020-21 regular season on a hot streak, scoring five goals and seven assists in the last eight games, but he has only recorded two assists so far in the playoffs.

Philipp Grubauer, 29, was drafted by the Caps in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, starting out as a goalie with the Caps’ ECHL affiliate South Carolina Stingrays in 2011 before moving up to Hershey when Braden Holtby was promoted to the Caps full-time for the 2012-13 season. Grubauer played parts of the next two seasons with the Caps, making his first NHL start in March 2013, and officially claimed the backup role behind Holtby for the 2015-16 season.

Grubauer was an important part of Washington's 2017-18 season leading up to their Stanley Cup run, delivering strong performances in net when Holtby struggled late in the season. Grubauer started the team’s first two playoff games against the Columbus Blue Jackets before Holtby took over.

Grubauer was traded along with veteran defenseman Brooks Orpik to the Avalanche before the 2018 draft, giving him an opportunity to be a starting goaltender. He split time with Semyon Varlamov, another former Caps goalie, in his first season with the Avs, but was named the starter for the 2019 playoffs. After Varlamov signed with the New York Islanders in the offseason, Grubauer assumed the starting role until injuries derailed his season.

He has turned in the best performance of his career during the shortened 2020-21 season, starting 39 of 56 games, winning 30 of them and ironically tying Varlamov for the league lead in shutouts (7). Thanks in large part to Grubauer, the Avalanche won the Central Division as well as the Presidents’ Trophy for the NHL’s best regular season record.

Vegas Golden Knights – Chandler Stephenson

Stephenson, 27, was also part of the 2018 Stanley Cup winning team. He was selected by the Caps in the third round of the 2012 NHL Draft. He made his NHL debut in 2015 and scored his first goal in 2017. His best season with the Caps came in 2017-18 when he recorded 18 points in 67 regular season games and seven points during their run to the Stanley Cup.

On his day with the Stanley Cup, Stephenson went to the intersection in Saskatchewan where the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team bus crashed on April 6, 2018, and met with some of the survivors. He is a Saskatchewan native. 

Washington traded Stephenson to the team they beat for the Cup in December, 2019. That Vegas trade gave the Caps much-needed salary cap relief and Stephenson a fresh start after recording just four points in 24 games early that year. He has thrived in the desert heat.

With the Caps, Stephenson was a bottom-six forward averaging less than 13 minutes of ice time. This season, he’s on pace to set career highs in every major offensive category and is the team’s top line center between leading scorers Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty.

New York Islanders – Semyon Varlamov

Varlamov, 33, was drafted 23rd overall by the Capitals in the 2006 NHL Draft. He came to North America from Russia in 2008 and played primarily with the Hershey Bears before taking over the backup goalie position behind Jose Theodore in February 2009.

Varlamov made his playoff debut in the first round against the New York Rangers in 2009, recording two shutouts to help the Caps reach the second round for the first time since the 1998 Stanley Cup Finals. Despite Varlamov making what pundits at the time called “the save of the playoffs” on Sidney Crosby in Game 1 (reminiscent of a different Caps goalie’s “The Save” nine years later), the Caps fell in Game 7 and the Penguins went on to win the Cup.

In 2011, Varlamov was traded to the Avalanche as a restricted free agent for a 2012 first-round draft pick and a second-round pick in either 2012 or 2013. He held the No. 1 goalie position for the Avs on and off for the next eight years before signing with the Islanders as a free agent in 2019.

Varlamov was a brick wall against his original team in the first round of the 2020 playoffs, allowing only eight goals through all five games and shutting out the Caps in Game 5 to advance to the second round. The Islanders made it to the Eastern Conference Finals before being knocked out by the eventual champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

This season, after missing the Islanders’ playoff opener due to injury, Varlamov lost Game 2 and 3 against the Penguins before being replaced by rookie Ilya Sorokin. The Islanders toppled the Penguins in six games. After New York lost Game 1 against the Bruins with Sorokin in goal, Varlamov took over for Game 2 and tied the series with a 4-3 overtime victory.

Winnipeg Jets – Mathieu Perreault

Mathieu Perreault, 33, was drafted in the sixth round of the 2006 NHL Draft by the Capitals and won the 2009 Calder Cup with Hershey. He made the Caps opening night roster for the 2011-12 season and due to team injuries moved up to center the first line with Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin. A particularly memorable and painful moment that season was when Perreault scored a goal on the Ottawa Senators with his face.

At the start of the 2013-14 season, he was traded to the Anaheim Ducks to make cap space for Tom Wilson and Michael Latta. Anaheim was then being coached by Bruce Boudreau, whom Perreault had played under with the Capitals. Perreault finished the season in Anaheim before signing with the Jets as a free agent.

Perreault was placed on waivers at the end of training camp for the 2020-21 season due to salary cap issues. Several days later, he was called up from the taxi squad and played in all 56 games. His contract expires at the end of this season, when he will be an unrestricted free agent.

Boston Bruins – Jaroslav Halak

Halak, 36, arrived in DC at the trade deadline in 2014 after being dealt by the Buffalo Sabres along with a third-round draft pick for Michal Neuvirth and Rostislav Klesla. Halak was in the goal for 12 games with the Caps that year, posting a 5-4-3 record with a 0.933 save percentage. 

However, the Caps failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2006-07, and traded Halak, a pending unrestricted free agent, to the New York Islanders for a fourth-round draft pick in May 2014. It was always jarring to see him in red anyway after the term 'Halaked' became a thing in 2010 when Halak and the Montreal Canadiens handed Washington one of its most painful playoff series losses in the first round that year. The Capitals' 3-1 series lead and Presidents' Trophy-winning regular season all went up in smoke thanks to Halak.   

After signing a two-year contract with the Boston Bruins as a free agent in 2018, Halak and fellow goalie Tuukka Rask won the 2019-20 William M. Jennings Trophy, given to the goalie tandem that allows the fewest goals during the regular season.

When Rask left the NHL's Eastern Conference bubble in Toronto last summer, Halak started his first playoff game with the Bruins and led them to a 4-1 series win over the Carolina Hurricanes. Boston then proceeded to lose in five games to Tampa Bay in the second round.

He signed a one-year extension to back up Rask for the 2020-21 season, starting 17 games in the regular season and winning nine of them, including two against the Capitals. He has not yet seen the ice in the playoffs as Rask is playing well for the Bruins.