I have not been a lifelong fan of the Capitals, and not because I have not enjoyed watching the sport or supporting the team. (Both of my children were born in Florida, we moved to Massachusetts for my husband’s job and eventually to Virginia in 1996). I only know what I have read about the supposed “D.C. curse” and the inability of the team to make it past the second round. My observations are more from watching this team from home and away games from the last few years as a season ticket holder.
The 2015-16 team was an absolute joy to watch, as they dominated the rest of the league, ended the regular season with an impressive 120 points, won the President’s Trophy, while Braden Holtby won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goaltender. The postseason was another story, as they were booted from the second round by THAT team we all despise and quite frankly gives me indigestion every time they are mentioned. Fast forward to 2016-17, and the team again won the President’s Trophy, and a new one, the William M. Jennings Trophy ( given to the team/goaltenders for the fewest goals against based on regular season play) The playoffs, well you know the rest of that story, which by the way has given me an irrational hatred of golf. This team on paper, as they say, was built for a long playoff run both years, yet came up short. I liken it to the student who has always gotten good grades, never had to study, everything came easy to them, yet when finals came around they failed because they never learned good study habits. Add in that trick question whereas you use the wrong formula (rental defense at the trade deadline), come up with the wrong “correct answer’, and boom you’ve failed again. I would find myself at the end of both postseasons waiting a month to watch the exit interviews because personally, I was not emotionally ready to see the anguish on their faces and hear the pain in their voices.
The summer of 2017 saw the team lose so many of their key players that the team relied heavily on production wise in the previous two seasons. Many people thought the window of opportunity to win the Stanley Cup had been slammed shut, that the team might even fail to make the playoffs in the upcoming season. Because of so many players’ contracts expiring that needed to take priority and with the loss of a future Top 4 defenseman in the expansion draft, the team roster now included “Baby Capitals” and players who were seeking a second chance. I have always wanted this team to succeed for themselves, so my expectations for this season was to support them unconditionally, through the good and the bad.
They say “that which doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger”. This season, unlike the last two, words like identity, adversity, and resilience have been used when talking about the Capitals. The team struggled in the beginning, their goalies were struggling as well, especially with the infusion of young forwards and defenders that were having to jump right into the lineup instead of having the luxury of being eased in. Matt Niskanen, considered one of the team’s best defenders, being injured and out early in the season seemed to be a further indication of how things would go. This team has always had a “next man up” mentality, but in years past they have had trouble when losing a key player to injury. This season something about this team felt different, they were more focused, more engaged, and when one man went down there was someone else who stepped up, whether through increased ice time or moving up or down a line, whatever it took to keep the team rolling. With every obstacle or hardship they pushed harder. This team knew things wouldn’t be easy, so like that student that has to work for their grades, the boys did the same. They also brought the correct formula to the test (Kempny) and this time weren’t fooled by the wrong “correct” answer. I believe not having the best team on paper, not having as much star power, made them dig down deep, believe in themselves, and more importantly, believe in each other. A team that has been labeled “chokers” (I detest that word) has proven all the naysayers wrong and is now headed to the Stanley Cup Finals! Maybe just maybe, this was the way it was meant to happen.
As the Capitals prepare to do battle with the Vegas Golden Knights, it doesn’t matter if they are considered the underdogs or the favorites.This team has shown they have the resiliency and resolve to bring Lord Stanley back home. We fans need to remember, it’s not one game but the best of seven. There have been slight hiccups in all of the three previous rounds, yet the boys have not wavered in their support of each other or the task at hand, and we fans need to do the same. We as fans also need to not push back at those we call “bandwaggoners”. Yes, some will now cheer for an opposing team because they dislike the Capitals (If I’m being honest there are a few teams I would root against), but maybe just maybe, they now root for the boys because of their love of hockey. In the end, isn’t that all that matter? My 75-year old mother-in-law has even joined in the fun and was sending me the “crying” papers (as she calls them as she lives near Tampa) and has even texted me wishing the team well. I have met so many amazing people that share my love of hockey, interacted with even more through social media, and have been given an opportunity to try my hand at writing about a passion of mine; for me, what more could I ask for? The “icing” on the cake of course!
By Lisa Desabrais