After a 44-year drought, the Washington Capitals have won the Stanley Cup for the 2017-18 NHL season.
A few things you need to know about the Capitals winning the Stanley Cup:
There are two Capitals fan bases: the California Golden Seals beating, Yvon Labre watching fans, who’ve been with the team since 1974. These fans saw their team unable to make the playoffs for a decade when there were only 21 teams in the league. 16 teams made the playoffs. Those fans kind of had their fill with the fire sale starting with the trade of Jaromir Jagr to the New York Rangers. I’m in that group.
Then there’s the post-2004 lockout fans. These are the fans who caught onto the Alexander Ovechkin phase. They saw the drafting of Nicky Backstrom, Mike Green, Jeff Schultz, and a host of players who brought the team into contention. That was always the goal, to get the team back into contention for the Stanley Cup. They succeeded in that effort, but didn’t win until this year.
What’s the difference between now and the multiple teams … including the 2016-17 season that was actually more talented then this year’s team that won? It’s clear: Washington FINALLY got some secondary scoring. Alex Ovechkin has 61 goals in 121 playoff games. He was never the problem, as much as some sports media blowhards would have you think. The problem was Washington’s 3rd and 4th lines, who never scored much in the playoffs at all. The rare exceptions to this were Bobby Gould’s scoring in the Capitals first playoffs, enabling to win a game against the three-time defending Cup Champion Islanders. 1989, John Druce, a little known 3rd liner, set the team playoff record that stood for 28 years with 14 goals. The Capitals made the conference finals for the first time. Then the Capitals picked up some veterans for a playoff run in 1998. Brian Bellows and Esa Tikkanen added additional scoring and the Capitals made their first Stanley Cup appearance. 2017-18, Devonte Smith-Pelly, Tom Wilson, Lars Eller and a host of other players put up numbers for the Capitals in the postseason. If you’ve watched the Capitals for life like I have, you know that’s true.
There’s certain things in hockey that are true. We watched Tampa become the previous years Washington Capitals in games six and seven of their playoff series. Started gripping their sticks too tight. Tampa was the best team in the league this season. They ended up with nothing. In fact, I really started to believe the Capitals were going all the way in Game Six of the Tampa series. They came out hitting in that game, stapled the Lightning to the boards and basically beat them down. In Game 7, the Lightning fans were nervous, then the Caps got a quick one from Ovy. Nervousness turned into panic, individual play and finally despair. I felt for the Lightning because that’s something that can stick with a team for a while.
You’ve got to make adjustments, and counter adjustments.
There are a lot of guys who won’t have to buy drinks in Washington ever again. Smith-Pelly. Tom Wilson. Lars Eller. Brooks freaking Orpik. Christian Djoos. Chandler Stephenson. Brett Conally. T.J. Oshie. There are others.
Did I mention Alex Ovechkin? Did you see how happy that guy was? I’m sure he had thoughts that he might never win one. I can’t stand criticism of Ovechkin, mainly because wingers shouldn’t be your team leaders anyway. Alex did whatever he was asked to do over his entire career. Score without defensive consciousness, sure. Play right wing, no problem. Block shots, he did it. This past summer, Coach Trotz asked him to become a great two-way player, and improve at 5 on 5. He did it, and did it well. They won this Cup additionally because they made Nick Backstrom a 2nd line center. They were exceptional down the middle.
And, the Capitals may not be one and done. Their core still has several quality years left. If they can get secondary scoring again and bring John Carlson back, they’ll have a shot for at least one more.