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Heartache is part of being a Washington Capitals fan, or any sports fan for that matter. Even if you’ve been a fan for the last 10 years you have become numb to losing. It’s also the reason we are euphoric now that they are going to the Stanley Cup Finals.
It’s almost poetic the way the Capitals have advanced this far. They have had some of the most skilled teams in the Ovechkin era, but were not only unable to win the Cup, but were unable to get out of the 2nd round.
Now they are a weaker team than recent seasons, yet have powered their way through all sorts of obstacles to get to the Stanley Cup Finals. Matt Niskanen said it best before game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, “I said to my wife, ‘On paper we’re not as good this year, but watch, this will be the year we do something.’ Hockey’s a funny sport. That just proves how names on a piece of paper don’t win. It’s how guys play together.”
In the first round the Capitals went down 0-2 at home against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Alexander Ovechkin made a promise that they would win both their games in Columbus. They did just that. What’s even more amazing is in Game 3 the teams went to double overtime. Off a very lucky bounce, Lars Eller potted the game winning goal. The Capitals went on to win the next three to end the series. It made it feel even better that the Blue Jackets were coached by John Tortoralla, a coach that has booted the Capitals out of the playoffs twice before.
The second round opponent was a common one: the Pittsburgh Penguins. As we all know they knocked the Capitals out the last two seasons to go on to win the Cup. They did the same thing back in 2009 after the Caps were up 3-1 in the series, and guess what, they went on to win the Cup that season too. So everyone assumed that the Caps would fail again, and losing game one at home certainly didn’t change those negative thoughts. Then with the series tied 2-2, the Capitals won two straight to end it. And they did this with no Nicklas Backstrom (injury), no Tom Wilson (suspension), and still no Andre Burakovsky (injury). They slayed their biggest two demons in one huge swing while very shorthanded: beating the Penguins and getting past the second round.
For the Eastern Conference Finals, the Capitals were taking on a better opponent in the Tampa Bay Lightning, and once again no one thought they could win. The Caps took a commanding 2-0 series lead before Losing the next three games to trail 2-3. Everyone was calling them chokers, that they can never finish a series. But with their backs against the walls, they came out and beat the better team twice with Braden Holtby grabbing two straight shutouts. Oh yeah, on top of that, the Lightning had five previous New York Rangers on their roster, a team that kicked the Capitals out of the playoffs three times since 2011. Another demon destroyed.
After all of that they still have more walls to hurdle. They are going into the final series against the Vegas Golden Knights, a team backed by goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury who stood on his head in previous playoffs to dash the the Capitals Stanley Cup hopes. Vegas is also the NHL darlings, destroying everyone in their path in their first year. By the start of puck drop for game 1, it’s more than likely Vegas will be the favorites. Even with everything they have been through, nothing will test them more than the upcoming Cup Final.
Starting the postseason by winning a series after going down 0-2 to facing their nemesis goalie in the Finals, the Capitals seem like a team of destiny right now. They have thrown aside everything that has come their way. Can they finish off their great run by lifting Lord Stanley? There’s no doubt the Capitals have been driven by conquering their obstacles, now they just need to vanquish one more.
By Luke Adomanis