Given that the Capitals have advanced past the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs just twice in their 42 years of existence, the players who have helped them advance that far have a special place in the hearts of Caps fans. The two most notable were John Druce and Joe Juneau. In this piece, NoVa Caps’ writer, Diane Doyle, looks at these two players’ memorable runs.
John Druce performed his heroics during the 1990 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the first time the Capitals advanced to the third round. He saw his first NHL action with the Capitals during the 1988-1989 season and scored eight goals, followed by another eight-goal campaign the following year during the regular season. He generally played on the fourth-line and was known more for his guts than his glory, so to speak. But when productive forward Dino Ciccarelli was sidelined with a knee injury during Round 2 of the playoffs, Druce was promoted to the top line with Dale Hunter and Geoff Courtnall. This move worked spectacularly well as Druce netted 14 goals in 15 playoff games that year, including eight power play goals and 1 shorthanded goal.
When asked to describe the performance Druce told reporters, “Everything just took off. I kept on going to the net and it seemed that everything I touched around the net was going in the net. It was almost surreal. The whole time I was doing it, I didn’t get too excited and I did not get too low. I was in a zone and even away from the rink, I felt I was in a zone.”
Looking more closely into his performance, he scored three goals during round 1 of the playoffs, a series in which the Caps beat the New Jersey Devils in six games. This included a 5-4 overtime win in Game 1. He scored in Game 4, a 3-1 win by the Caps. It climaxed with getting the game-winning goal in Game 6, which the Caps won 2-1 as they advanced to the next round. He had even more success during the Capitals’ second round matchup against the New York Rangers, a series which the Caps won in 5 games. He scored one goal in the first game, a 7-3 loss. He scored two goals in Game 3, which the Caps won 7-1. He scored two goals in Game 4, which the Caps won in overtime, 4-3. He finished up his impressive second round performance by scoring the game-winner in overtime in Game 5, as the Caps won 2-1 for their second consecutive overtime win. That particular game-winner was a deflection of a shot by Courtnall over the Rangers’ goalie John Vanbiesbrouck. He was truly the hero of round 2, with six goals after his opportunity to play on the top line.
He did well in round 3 as well, scoring goals in Game 1 and Game 3 of the Conference Final win which the Capitals were swept by the Boston Bruins. His overall playoff shooting percentage in the playoffs that year was an incredible 31.8%.
After that season, he remained in the Capitals lineup for two more seasons, scoring 22 goals and adding 36 assists in 1990-1991, and 19 goals and 18 assists in 1991-1992. He was traded to the Winnipeg Jets prior to the 1992-1993 season and never again approached his level productivity he had with the Caps.
The 1997-1998 playoffs marked the first time the Caps had advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals in franchise history and only the second time they had advanced to round 3. One of the heroes of that particular team’s playoff run was Joe Juneau. After a regular season in which he scored nine goals and contributed 22 assists, for 31 points in 56 games, he was even more productive during the playoffs. In the first round against the Boston Bruins, a series the Caps won in six games, Juneau was unproductive in the first two games, but in Game 3, he had the game-winning goal and an assist in a game the Caps won 3-2 in overtime. He finished the series with one goal and three assists.
He had an even better series in round 2, in which the Capitals beat the Ottawa Senators in five games. He contributed two assists and scored the game-winning goal in Game 3 in a double overtime win, avenging their double overtime loss from Game 2. He also scored the first goal and had an assist in Game 6, his goal proving to be the game-winner in a game the Caps won 3-0 to advance to round 3. He finished that series with two goals and four assists for six points.
In round 3, the Caps played the Buffalo Sabres and beat them in six games. Juneau scored a go-ahead goal in Game 2, a game which the Caps ultimately won 3-2 in overtime. He also scored a shorthanded goal during the third period of Game 4, which put the Caps ahead 2-0; a score that would stand to give the Capitals a commanding 2-0 series lead. Finally, in Game 6, he scored the game-winning goal in overtime in a game the Caps won 3-2 and advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first and only time in their history. He was traded at the trade deadline the following season to, ironically enough, Buffalo. He played for three more teams before his career ended after the 2003-2004 season, just before the lockout that cancelled the following season.
By Diane Doyle