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While the Capitals have seen the scenario they face tonight when they take on the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena, a must-win game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs that determines their fate, there is much more at stake here. Not only do the Caps have to play their best in their biggest game of the 2016-17 season, they have to play their best in what is perhaps, the most important game in franchise history.
In 42 years as an NHL franchise, the Capitals have only seen the Stanley Cup Finals only once, in 1998. I was born just 11 days after Game 1 of a series in which the Caps were swept by a dynastic Detroit Red Wings team. That was nearly 19 years ago; to put that into perspective, Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin was not yet 13-years old, Nicklas Backstrom not yet 11, and Tom Wilson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Andre Burakovsky were four, six, and three-years old, respectively.
Since that unprecedented run, the Captals have gone through a rebuild, rise of new stars, a decline, and for three consecutive seasons under Head Coach Barry Trotz and General Manager Brian MacLellan, a revival. This version of the Washington Capitals is arguably, the most dangerous roster ever assembled in their history, and it is their time to rewrite history. With the majority of their roster set to become unrestricted and restricted free agents this summer, the tune is now to win it all.
Last year at this time, the Capitals were in the same situation: down 3-2 in a second round matchup against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Game 6, and heading into play on the brink of elimination in what will be a raucous, deafening building. The Caps have proved time and time again this season that they are capable of finding that extra gear to propel them back into games and oftentimes, the win; their Game 5 win is a perfect example. For diehard fans like myself, who have watched the Capitals disappoint year after year, it is absolutely nerve-wracking to watch the Caps in elimination games, knowing that even the smallest mistake or miscalculation could prove to be costly.
But this team, I believe, is different. While they’ve had some heart-stopping moments (in both good and bad ways), they have come back in games that previous editions of the Washington Capitals would not have. Their core is another year wiser, their youth more developed, and they have a coach that is one of the best the league has ever seen. This team can do it, though it might be strenuous at times. It’s time for the Caps to rewrite history, it’s time to leave a lasting legacy in the record books, and with a team built for a deep run, it’s time for fans to BELIEVE. Don’t give up Caps fans, it’s not over yet.
By Michael Fleetwood