You've been off the grid for a week and a half. You wake up and the Washington Capitals have won their second-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. How did it happen?
Greg Wyshynski, senior NHL writer: Whoa, how crazy is it that the Penguins had their NHL franchise charter revoked in the middle of the playoffs, as that's clearly the only way they could possibly lose a series to the Capitals? Wait, they didn't?
Well, look at that: Washington's recipe for success in its first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets series somehow cooked up a win over the Penguins. The Capitals scored a power-play goal in each game and shut down the Pittsburgh power play in each win. Goalie Braden Holtby was the best player on the ice for a couple of games. Rivalry newbies Devante Smith-Pelly, Jakub Vrana and Chandler Stephenson scored key goals, because they didn't know any better. Alex Ovechkin had eight points in six games. Operative phrase: six games. No sphincter-clenching "how-does-it-all-go-to-hell" Game 7 pressure in D.C. Because if the series went that deep, obviously we wouldn't be having this conversation.
Emily Kaplan, national NHL reporter: The Capitals were in a precarious situation. Unburdened by outside expectations (no Presidents' Trophy) the team actually felt more pressure than ever. They knew that their coach, Barry Trotz, was without a contract for next season and likely wouldn't be back save for winning a Stanley Cup -- and even then, it wasn't a given. The Caps also knew that GM Brian MacLellan would drastically shake up the roster if they fell to the Penguins yet again.
So they put up one heck of a performance to win this series in six games. Of course, it helped that the Pens had played the equivalent of an extra half-season of hockey over their past two Stanley Cup runs. Washington also took advantage of Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist missing games with lingering injuries. The Penguins' power play was uncharacteristically tame -- oh, sorry, this is Capitals fan fiction. I meant to say that Washington extended its strong penalty killing from the Blue Jackets series. Also, I'm happy to report, no beer cans were chucked onto the ice.
Chris Peters, NHL prospects writer: First, I'd have to make sure I wasn't hallucinating. After that, I'd probably learn that Holtby, with some restored confidence after four consecutive victories against the Columbus Blue Jackets, was at the top of his game. His .932 career save percentage in the postseason hasn't necessarily helped a ton against Pittsburgh in previous years, but this time it's enough, especially if Penguins goalie Matt Murray's numbers continued to dip.
The Capitals would need big performances from their depth players to bolster the expected production from their top guys like Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and John Carlson, who had been so strong against Columbus and continued to be threatening against Pittsburgh. The Caps got a little help from depth guys like Stephenson and Jay Beagle, among others, against Columbus. They will need even more against the Pens. The top lines will be expected to carry their respective teams, but the depth can provide the separation. And you know what? I think there's a decent chance this happens in real life, too.
Sachin Chandan, ESPN The Magazine researcher: Three things had to have happened. One, the Capitals won the high-leverage scoring chances. They are already on a strong track, as they lead all playoff teams with 66 high-danger scoring chances, per Natural Stat Trick. Two, Holtby was obviously stellar in net, but he needed the defense in front of him to help him out. This year Holtby has been more susceptible to shots from the center of the zone, and he would need his top defense pairs, Michal Kempny-Carlson and Dmitry Orlov-Matt Niskanen, to shut down those vulnerable lanes. Three, they kept up their power-play success while not taking penalties. Washington leads all teams with a 33.3 percent rate on the power play, while having the most chances, and didn't commit penalties of their own. It was a struggle, but anything is possible.