Archives for posts with tag: Alex Ovechkin

The Washington Capitals are Stanley Cup Champions.  It’s been well over a week and the contact high from that sentence still holds.  The Caps are NHL champs for the first time in franchise history…and the DC metro area has its first major pro sports titlist (sorry, DC United and Washington Kastles) since 1992 when the Redskins ruled the roost.  What a journey and what a destination.

Alex Ovechkin can rest knowing he won’t have an asterisk on his career;  the Stanley Cup winning captain leaves the land of Marcel Dionnes and Gilbert Perraults behind.  Unlike a Ray Bourque, Ovechkin didn’t have to benefit from a late-career trade to piggyback another team’s Cup run.  The face of the franchise is a champion without spending another minute in another club’s home dressing room.  Ovechkin got to enjoy the Cup with his long-time teammate Nicklas Backstrom and now can become a rare cradle-to-grave title-winning Washington sports icon.

Barry Trotz can enjoy the professional achievement of winning a Cup after never having coached a game past the second round before this spring.  He can enjoy reaching the peak of his profession and the validation that the system he built in DC was title-worthy after all.  Trotz will also enter the summer knowing that just about every one of his moves (sitting Holtby after a disastrous February, moving Ovechkin and Backstrom to different lines, maximizing Wilson and Eller) this winter paid off in the long run.  He can also appreciate the fact that his contract with the team expired, and he’s going to be paid in DC or elsewhere at a rate commensurate with having led a franchise to their first-ever Stanley Cup.

Brian MacLellan’s Stanley Cup ring won as a player with Calgary finally has a buddy.  The General Manager made multiple moves to pump up a roster that was high on upside but didn’t have a ton of depth and was a disaster on the blue line when he took over.  The midseason trade for Michal Kempny was everything the move for Kevin Shattenkirk last year wasn’t–and worked for precisely that reason.  Seemingly minor pickups like Devante Smith-Pelly became major in the postseason.  Yes, decisions need to be made regarding John Carlson’s expiring deal and next year’s roster will look different–but for at least one day MacLellan can rest easy knowing he’s achieved what he set out to accomplish.  Even if it was year three of the “two year window”.

As for the team, from TJ Oshie to Nathan Walker, from Dmitri Orlov to Christian Djoos, they’re champs.  Pure and simple.  Unlike if the Redskins or Wizards won it all, there’s no precedent.  There are even those who if the Nats win the World Series will cite the 1924 Senators or how the Orioles were the region’s team for three decades.  But this is the first ever title for a franchise that entered the league under sorry circumstances (8-67-5 the byproduct of the slimmest expansion pickings ever)…only to be locked into the toughest division in an era when that was the only path to a title.  Gone are nightmares of Easter Morning.  Gone is the disappointment of coming up short to the Penguins.  This Stanley Cup was also for the Peter Bondras and Mike Gartners and Yvon Labres…players who skated against the windmills of the Patrick Division.  This Cup belongs to the fans who made the trek to the Cap Centre and suffered through the teal eagle sweaters when the team finally moved to DC.  This title belongs to an area that not only was without a champ in a major pro sport since 1992, but had also not played for a title in 20 years (actually it had been 20 years since a DC major pro team had played for the right to play for a championship).

Before the Philadelphia Flyers played Game Six of the Stanley Cup Final in 1974, coach Fred Shero wrote on the dressing room blackboard:  “Win today and we walk together forever.”  They went out and beat Boston to capture the franchise’s first of two Stanley Cups.  The Washington Capitals’ road has been long and winding with more than a few fits and starts, but for one brief shining moment they are the best team in hockey.  And for the rest of time this team will walk-and skate-together forever.

 

 

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What a difference a couple of weeks make.  The Nationals have won 13 of 15 to turn from April underachievers to May movers and shakers…highlighted by a four game sweep of Arizona on the road.  Somehow despite missing major pieces in the lineup the Nats are within a stone’s throw of first place in a continuing to deflate NL East.  Credit a starting rotation that is the second stingiest (2.91 ERA) in the big leagues…and just enough offense (7th in MLB this month) to put W’s on the board and keep this club in contention until in theory the big bats on the DL return to the lineup.

More Aches- add Ryan Zimmerman and a hurting oblique to the growing list of lumber in the land of limbo.  Four of the top six bats in the order (Eaton, Rendon, Murphy and now Zim) have been sat down this spring- with Eaton now on the 60-day disabled list and Murphy past the point of “as long as he’s back by May 1st” concern.  In addition, Brian Goodwin’s stay on the DL nears one month means that the team has been forced to go with Plan C…and sometimes D and E in LF.

Dissecting the Division- Atlanta’s Monday matinée victory over the Chicago Cubs gave the Braves a game and a half lead in the NL East…as six wins in seven games keeps them ahead of the surging Phillies (four wins in five games) and Nationals.  The Braves’ bats (#1 in the MLB in average) and the Phillies’ rotation (2nd most quality starts in the majors) have those clubs ahead of the Nats (24-18) for the moment.  The Mets remain over .500, but just barely…

Break up the Birds- who are these people?  Back to back series wins for the Orioles have the team no longer saddled with the worst record in the majors.  Manny Machado is a major monster (.350, 13 HR & 38 RBI) while Jonathan Schoop is off the disabled list.  Unfortunately the nightmare season of Chris Tillman lands the former ace on the disabled list.  The 10.46 ERA this year may not be the largest sample size, but he’s 2-11 since the start of last year.

Last Week’s Heroes- Matt Reynolds homered twice in Sunday’s win over Arizona, while Trea Turner scored 8 runs and Matt Adams drove in 7 runs.  Stephen Strasburg went 2-0 while Max Scherzer struck out 11 and allowed zero walks in his lone start (a victory).  Jeremy Hellickson posted a 0.77 ERA over two starts.  Sean Doolittle saved three games while tossing three scoreless innings.

Last Week’s Humbled- Michael A. Taylor hit .148 with 12 strikeouts (and no walks).  The early-season injuries are making life miserable for the training staff.  Hope they can go fishing on their off day this week.

Game to Watch- Wednesday Max Scherzer takes his 7-1 mark to the mound against C.C. Sabathia and the New York Yankees.  The Pinstripes are a big-league best 28-12 with four players already at 10+ home runs.  Max leads the majors in strikeouts and is fourth in ERA.  Even with FBI agent Stan Beeman finally realizing his neighbors are more than just “travel” agents, The Americans takes second place.

Game to Miss- the Washington Capitals are on a collision course with destiny…one that will result in me wearing a red suit for one day when they capture the Stanley Cup.  They took the first two games of their Eastern Conference Final with Tampa Bay on the road (and we won’t mention they did the same thing in the 2003 First Round only to lose in six games)…and host the Lightning Tuesday evening.  I’ll be there for WTOP– and even though the Gio Gonzalez-Masahiro Tanaka duel is compelling, the chance to watch the Caps take a 3-0 lead > regular season baseball in May.

 

UPDATED FROM LAST YEAR’S POST–

The Washington Capitals play the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL Playoffs for the eleventh time this spring…and for the record the record is a broken one.  The Caps have prevailed just once over their former Patrick Division and current Metropolitan Division foes…as the two-decade Atlantic/Southeast separation did nothing to temper those flames.  Ten meetings with nine that resulted in heartbreak for DC:

1991-Patrick Division Finals.  The upstart Capitals were the defending division champs while the Penguins won the regular season title and were looking for their first-ever trip to the NHL’s final four.  The Caps took game on in the Steel city and had a chance to return home up two games to none.  The Penguins and Kevin Stevens (overtime goal in Game Two’s 7-6 heartbreaker) had other plans.  They’d then win the next three games by a combined 10-3 score and eliminate the Capitals.  By the way, the Penguins would go on to win their first Stanley Cup that year.

1992-Patrick Division Semifinals.  The defending champions lost coach Bob Johnson to brain cancer and brought in Hall of Famer Scotty Bowman.  The Penguins finished tied for third and lost three of the first four games in the first round.  Unfortunately the Captials blew a 3-1 series lead as Mario Lemieux tallied four goals and five assists in the last three games of the series (Penguins would light the lamp 18 times in that stretch). Another Cup for the Penguins…another offseason of discontent for the Capitals.

1994-Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Yes, the oddly named divisions and conferences went the way of the dodo bird thanks to Commissioner Gary Bettman who somehow still is employed by the league.  The Caps drew the 7th seed while the Penguins won the Northeast Division…and just like 1991 the teams would split in Pittsburgh.  But then the Caps would hold the Pens to one goal in two games at Landover– both wins for the home team.  Kelly Miller would tally a goal and two assists in the Game Six series clincher.  Who cares if the Caps would lose in the next round to the Rangers?

1995-Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. One year after proving the Penguins dominance was a fluke, the Caps take a 3-1 series lead before coughing up 14 goals over the last three games en route to another early summer.  How bad was this collapse?  Team mascot “Winger the Eagle” was not retained in the offseason.

1996-Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Capitals light the lamp 11 times while taking a surprise 2-0 series lead before scoring six goals over the next four games…all losses. That includes a 4-overtime series defining defeat in Game Four.

2000-Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. The first playoff game at the MCI Center saw the Penguins prevail 7-0.  Not a misprint…Olaf Kolzig coughed up six goals before being lifted.  Due to scheduling conflicts, the next two games were in Pittsburgh and the Caps returned to DC down 3-0.  The game that should have been in DC…was lost in overtime. Just because.

2001-Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.  Once again the Caps enter as division champs. Let the record show playing in the Southeast Division may not have prepared this team that well for the postseason.  Once again they squander home ice.  Only this time their season ends with an overtime loss in Pittsburgh.  Sound familiar?

2009-Eastern Conference Semifinals.  The avidly anticipated meeting between Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby would add a different wrinkle to the rivalry.  Ovi tallied 14 points in the series while Sid the Kid led the Penguins with 13.  But it was on May 13 that the Caps’ luck ran out in a 6-2 blowout loss at Verizon Center.

2016-Eastern Conference Semifinals.  Finally, the Caps would set things straight as the President’s Trophy-winning team that was a much more sound bunch than the high-wire act of Bruce Boudreau that provided thrills and chills, but also plenty of spills.  The overtime Game One win would set things in the right direction, correct?  No dice.  And the series would end in overtime on a Penguins goal–again.

2017-Eastern Conference Semifinals.  If it feels like you’ve been here before, it’s because you have.  Just like 2009 the Caps came in as Division champs and just like 2016 they were President’s Trophy winners.  A home ice loss began the fun as was the case in 2000…and an overtime win gave them hope that this was the year (2001, 2009, 2016) before the Caps rallied to force a game seven (2009).  Sadly, once again the series ended on home ice with a defeat (1992, 1996, 2000, 2009).  And once more the Penguins would go on to capture the Stanley Cup (1991-92, 2009, 2016).  Do we have to do this all over again…?

 

The Washington Capitals play the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL Playoffs for the tenth time starting Thursday night…and for the record the record is a broken one.  The Caps have prevailed just once over their former Patrick Division and current Metropolitan Division foes…as the two-decade Atlantic/Southeast separation did nothing to temper those flames.  Nine meetings with eight that resulted in heartbreak for DC:

1991-Patrick Division Finals.  The upstart Capitals were the defending division champs while the Penguins won the regular season title and were looking for their first-ever trip to the NHL’s final four.  The Caps took game on in the Steel city and had a chance to return home up two games to none.  The Penguins and Kevin Stevens (overtime goal in Game Two’s 7-6 heartbreaker) had other plans.  They’d then win the next three games by a combined 10-3 score and eliminate the Capitals.  By the way, the Penguins would go on to win the Stanley Cup that year.

1992-Patrick Division Semifinals.  The defending champions lost coach Bob Johnson to brain cancer and brought in Hall of Famer Scotty Bowman.  The Penguins finished tied for third and lost three of the first four games in the first round.  Unfortunately the Captials blew a 3-1 series lead as Mario Lemieux tallied four goals and five assists in the last three games of the series (Penguins would light the lamp 18 times in that stretch). Another Cup for the Penguins…another offseason of discontent for the Capitals.

1994-Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Yes, the oddly named divisions and conferences went the way of the dodo bird thanks to Commissioner Gary Bettman who somehow still is employed by the league.  The Caps drew the 7th seed while the Penguins won the Northeast Division…and just like 1991 the teams would split in Pittsburgh.  But then the Caps would hold the Pens to one goal in two games at Landover– both wins for the home team.  Kelly Miller would tally a goal and two assists in the Game Six series clincher.  Who cares if the Caps would lose in the next round to the Rangers?

1995-Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. One year after proving the Penguins dominance was a fluke, the Caps take a 3-1 series lead before coughing up 14 goals over the last three games en route to another early summer.  How bad was this collapse?  Team mascot “Winger the Eagle” was not retained in the offseason.

1996-Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Capitals light the lamp 11 times while taking a surprise 2-0 series lead before scoring six goals over the next four games…all losses. That includes a 4-overtime series defining defeat in Game Four.

2000-Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. The first playoff game at the MCI Center saw the Penguins prevail 7-0.  Not a misprint…Olaf Kolzig coughed up six goals before being lifted.  Due to scheduling conflicts, the next two games were in Pittsburgh and the Caps returned to DC down 3-0.  The game that should have been in DC…was lost in overtime. Just because.

2001-Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.  Once again the Caps enter as division champs. Let the record show playing in the Southeast Division may not have prepared this team that well for the postseason.  Once again they squander home ice.  Only this time their season ends with an overtime loss in Pittsburgh.  Sound familiar?

2009-Eastern Conference Semifinals.  The avidly anticipated meeting between Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby would add a different wrinkle to the rivalry.  Ovi tallied 14 points in the series while Sid the Kid led the Penguins with 13.  But it was on May 13 that the Caps’ luck ran out in a 6-2 blowout loss at Verizon Center.

2016-Eastern Conference Semifinals.  Finally, the Caps would set things straight as the President’s Trophy-winning team that was a much more sound bunch than the high-wire act of Bruce Boudreau that provided thrills and chills, but also plenty of spills.  The overtime Game One win would set things in the right direction, correct?  No dice.  And the series would end in overtime on a Penguins goal–again.

Previously appearing on WTOP.COM in 2016…and re-dressed with last year’s Second Round Stumble.  Apologies to the 1986 Caps Collapse to a sub-500 Rangers team.

It happens every spring… beauty and awe before they’re gone all of a sudden.  The Cherry Blossom season more often than not mirrors the Caps postseason:  heavy anticipation, attention-grabbing quick bloom,  and then after one or two rains it’s all gone.

The Capitals have enjoyed a checkered postseason in their history…unfortunately getting double-jumped by Pittsburgh, the Islanders and Rangers on multiple occasions while having to hear the refrain “King Me” a lot more than they’d prefer.  But in the middle of the wreckage of many a spring on ice they have also had their moments–it’s just tough to locate the highlights amongst the heartbreak.  Two provide a nice bookend to get us started…

Highlight Honorable Mention: 1983.  In Bryan Murray’s first full season as head coach, the previously hapless Caps (8-67-5 in their first year…and it took six seasons to post a winning percentage above .400) actually make the playoffs and lose to the eventual Stanley Cup champion New York Islanders.  Just like being nominated for best documentary, it was simply an honor to be the first speedbump that season for Mike Bossy, Billy Smith & company.

Heartbreak Honorable Mention: 2015.  Losing to the Rangers is never fun…and blowing a 3 games to 1 series lead is even more painful.  Thank you, Curtis Glencross for your contribution to Caps Collapse History.  Still, they bounced the Islanders (although losing game 6 meant they couldn’t close out Nassau Coliseum).  They won a game the same night the Wizards and Nats prevailed…and it was coach Barry Trotz’s first season.  Of course, the key to getting over heartbreak is rationalization.

Highlight #5: 1994.  Sadly, it’s a little bit of a challenge to find roses amongst the playoff thorns for this franchise.  But in 1994 they bounced recent nemesis Pittsburgh (who beat the Caps en route to Stanley Cups in 1991 & 92) in six games…outscoring the likes of Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr from the get-go.  Don Beaupre stood on his head for four games…while Joe Juneau and Michal Pivonka led a balanced attack that more than took advantage of their opportunities.  The Caps won the series clincher 6-3 and had other games where they lit the lamp 4 and 5 times.  What happened to that NHL?

Heartbreak #5: 1989.  Finally, a Patrick Division regular season championship.  This would be the team that would finally emerge from the early rounds…only to learn that in the divisional playoff format turnabout isn’t just fair play, it’s often expected.  The Caps got bounced by an aging Philadelphia team in six games.  These weren’t the Broad Street Bullies…or even the Cup runners-up from 1987.  How bad were these Flyers?  Their 80 points was the team’s fewest since 1972 and they’d go on to miss the playoffs the next five seasons.  Which brings to mind the question about banner protocol.  Do you have to return the regular season championship banner if you lose in the first round?

Highlight #4: 1984. You never forget your first series win.  Especially when it’s a sweep.  Against the team less than 3 hours up I-95.  And especially when it ends the career of Hall of Famer Bobby Clarke.  Long before he was ruining the Flyers on a short-term (as General Manager) and long-range (as Senior VP) basis, Clarke was one of the scrappiest (some will say dirtiest) players in the league.  He was the face of the franchise in Philadelphia…and to sweep him into retirement by beating the Flyers in the Spectrum was the extra onions on the cheesesteak.  Yes, they lost to the Islanders in the next round.  But still…

Heartbreak #4: 2009.  After winning the Southeast Division (let the record show that it was called the SouthLEAST for much of its existence), the Caps trailed the Rangers 3 games to 1 before taking games five, six and seven (so it does happen the other way sometimes!).  A thrilling conference semifinal showdown against Pittsburgh and Sidney Crosby brought three overtime affairs and a 3-3 series tie heading into a Game Seven at Verizon Center.  Sadly, this finish would be more floundering than fantastic and the Penguins won a 6-2 clincher that wasn’t as close as the score looked.  That Pittsburgh would go on to win the Stanley Cup would be little consolation this time.

Highlight #3: 2012.  A team in turmoil fires its coach early in the season and brings in a legend (Dale Hunter) to put the house in order.  After finishing two games over .500…the grittier version went into Boston and won a game seven (thank you Joel Ward!) before taking the #1 team in the conference (Rangers) to seven games in the next round.  The foundation was set.  And Coach Dale Hunter would be back to take this franchise to the next level.  Only he didn’t…choosing to return to his role as president and owner of the London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League.  The team would stagger and then crumble under Adam Oates.  But we’ll always have that spring…

Heartbreak #3: 2016.  Last year’s Second Round loss in six games to Pittsburgh offered up a little of everything Caps fans have grown to expect.  Losing to Pittsburgh on the Penguins’ path to another Stanley Cup?  Check.   A President’s Trophy banner that gets to hang from the rafters, highlighting not the great 82-game marathon won but reflecting on the 6-game sprint lost?  Check. A guy who scored just nine regular season goals ending your postseason in overtime? Check.  What separates this from the 2009 defeat was that team’s best days were seemingly ahead of it (as evidenced by the 2010 President’s Trophy)…while the 2016 club can definitely see the day when Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom skate for the final time.  From here on out every spring stumble carries extra weight.

Highlight #2: 1990.  An underwhelming regular season saw the Caps finish with a losing record for the first time in eight years.  Naturally there was a midseason coaching change.  Oddly enough, coach Bryan Murray was replaced by his brother Terry.  Thankfully Bryan didn’t go all Fredo (he remains smart and deserves respect).  Despite an 18-14-2 finish under Murray 2.0, little was expected.  And with low expectations comes a surprising first round triumph over New Jersey.  Followed by shocking the first place Rangers in five games.  Even after getting swept by a better Boston team in the Cup Semis, the team’s first and only Patrick Division banner remains a high point during their stay in Landover.

Heartbreak #2: 1987.  Again, sometimes its how the movie ends that enhances everything before it.  The seven-game showdown with the Islanders was one for the ages.  Another 3 games to 1 lead with a game five at home.  Haven’t we written this script before?  Yes…but only this time the game seven went down to the wire and beyond.  A late one-goal lead disappeared with 5 minutes left in regulation.  Four overtimes later Pat LaFontaine ends the Capitals’ season…and a game that began at 7 p.m. concludes at 1:58 a.m..   Easter morning was a groggy one for many families in the area.

Highlight #1: 1998.  After finishing third in their division, the Caps rode hot goaltender Olaf Kolzig to the finals for the first time in franchise history.  Never mind that they got swept by Detroit.  And never mind that they took advantage of a busted bracket (upsets of Pittsburgh and New Jersey meant they would have better records than each of their playoff foes in the first three rounds).  Even the teal eagle jerseys couldn’t ruin this run.

Heartbreak #1:  2010.  After winning the President’s Trophy, the high-flying offensive juggernaut looked as though it was ready to finally crown Alex Ovechkin (career high 59 assists), Nicklas Backstrom (career highs in goals and assists) and Mike Green (before the injuries).  After taking a 3-1 first round series lead over Montreal (and posting 19 goals)…they somehow forgot the league changed the format to best-of-seven back in the 1980’s.  Yes, the Canadiens Jaroslav Halak somehow conjured up the spirits of Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy to limit the #1 offense in the league to 1 goal in games 5, 6 and 7.  But to lose in the first round after 82 games of positive reinforcement?  The Bruce Boudreau regime would never be the same–making its eventual departure less than 20 months later.

Previously appearing on WTOP.COM…

 

It happens every spring… beauty and awe before they’re gone all of a sudden.  The Cherry Blossom season more often than not mirrors the Caps postseason:  heavy anticipation, attention-grabbing quick bloom,  and then after one or two rains it’s all gone.

The Capitals have enjoyed a checkered postseason in their history…unfortunately getting double-jumped by Pittsburgh, the Islanders and Rangers on multiple occasions while having to hear the refrain “King Me” a lot more than they’d prefer.  But in the middle of the wreckage of many a spring on ice they have also had their moments–it’s just tough to locate the highlights amongst the heartbreak.  Two provide a nice bookend to get us started…

 

Highlight Honorable Mention: 1983.  In Bryan Murray’s first full season as head coach, the previously hapless Caps (8-67-5 in their first year…and it took six seasons to post a winning percentage above .400) actually make the playoffs and lose to the eventual Stanley Cup champion New York Islanders.  Just like being nominated for best documentary, it was simply an honor to be the first speedbump that season for Mike Bossy, Billy Smith & company.

Heartbreak Honorable Mention: 2015.  Losing to the Rangers is never fun…and blowing a 3 games to 1 series lead is even more painful.  Thank you, Curtis Glencross for your contribution to Caps Collapse History.  Still, they bounced the Islanders (although losing game 6 meant they couldn’t close out Nassau Coliseum).  They won a game the same night the Wizards and Nats prevailed…and it was coach Barry Trotz’s first season.  Of course, the key to getting over heartbreak is rationalization.

 

Highlight #5: 1994.  Sadly, it’s a little bit of a challenge to find roses amongst the playoff thorns for this franchise.  But in 1994 they bounced recent nemesis Pittsburgh (who beat the Caps en route to Stanley Cups in 1991 & 92) in six games…outscoring the likes of Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr from the get-go.  Don Beaupre stood on his head for four games…while Joe Juneau and Michal Pivonka led a balanced attack that more than took advantage of their opportunities.  The Caps won the series clincher 6-3 and had other games where they lit the lamp 4 and 5 times.  What happened to that NHL?

 

Heartbreak #5: 1986.  The eighties was a fantastic decade to follow the NHL-their playoffs were front and center on ESPN and the divisional playoff format led to upset-ridden Aprils.  The Patrick Division featured three teams in one metropolitan area and three more within manageable drives of one another.  An eighty game marathon to determine who’s the best…followed by five and seven game sprints to see who survives.  The Capitals finished with the third best record (107 points) in the league that year…but second in the division to Philadelphia.  When the Flyers were upset in the first round by the Rangers…the path was clear to a Stanley Cup Finals clash with defending champ Edmonton.  Only the Rangers (who finished with a pedestrian 78 regular season points) had more in the tank…bouncing Mike Gartner and company in six games.  Small consolation:  Edmonton lost in their divisional finals as well that year.

 

Highlight #4: 1984. You never forget your first series win.  Especially when it’s a sweep.  Against the team less than 3 hours up I-95.  And especially when it ends the career of Hall of Famer Bobby Clarke.  Long before he was ruining the Flyers on a short-term (as General Manager) and long-range (as Senior VP) basis, Clarke was one of the scrappiest (some will say dirtiest) players in the league.  He was the face of the franchise in Philadelphia…and to sweep him into retirement by beating the Flyers in the Spectrum was the extra onions on the cheesesteak.  Yes, they lost to the Islanders in the next round.  But still…

 

Heartbreak #4: 1989.  Finally, a Patrick Division regular season championship.  This would be the team that would finally emerge from the early rounds…only to learn that in the divisional playoff format turnabout isn’t just fair play, it’s often expected.  The Caps got bounced by an aging Philadelphia team in six games.  These weren’t the Broad Street Bullies…or even the Cup runners-up from 1987.  How bad were these Flyers?  Their 80 points was the team’s fewest since 1972 and they’d go on to miss the playoffs the next five seasons.  Which brings to mind the question about banner protocol.  Do you have to return the regular season championship banner if you lose in the first round?

 

Highlight #3: 2012.  A team in turmoil fires its coach early in the season and brings in a legend (Dale Hunter) to put the house in order.  After finishing two games over .500…the grittier version went into Boston and won a game seven (thank you Joel Ward!) before taking the #1 team in the conference (Rangers) to seven games in the next round.  The foundation was set.  And Coach Dale Hunter would be back to take this franchise to the next level.  Only he didn’t…choosing to return to his role as president and owner of the London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League.  The team would stagger and then crumble under Adam Oates.  But we’ll always have that spring…

 

Heartbreak #3: 2009.  After winning the Southeast Division (let the record show that it was called the SouthLEAST for much of its existence), the Caps trailed the Rangers 3 games to 1 before taking games five, six and seven (so it does happen the other way sometimes!).  A thrilling conference semifinal showdown against Pittsburgh and Sidney Crosby brought three overtime affairs and a 3-3 series tie heading into a Game Seven at Verizon Center.  Sadly, this finish would be more floundering than fantastic and the Penguins won a 6-2 clincher that wasn’t as close as the score looked.  That Pittsburgh would go on to win the Stanley Cup would be little consolation this time.

 

Highlight #2: 1990.  An underwhelming regular season saw the Caps finish with a losing record for the first time in eight years.  Naturally there was a midseason coaching change.  Oddly enough, coach Bryan Murray was replaced by his brother Terry.  Thankfully Bryan didn’t go all Fredo (he remains smart and deserves respect).  Despite an 18-14-2 finish under Murray 2.0, little was expected.  And with low expectations comes a surprising first round triumph over New Jersey.  Followed by shocking the first place Rangers in five games.  Even after getting swept by a better Boston team in the Cup Semis, the team’s first and only Patrick Division banner remains a high point during their stay in Landover.

 

Heartbreak #2: 1987.  Again, sometimes its how the movie ends that enhances everything before it.  The seven-game showdown with the Islanders was one for the ages.  Another 3 games to 1 lead with a game five at home.  Haven’t we written this script before?  Yes…but only this time the game seven went down to the wire and beyond.  A late one-goal lead disappeared with 5 minutes left in regulation.  Four overtimes later Pat LaFontaine ends the Capitals’ season…and a game that began at 7pm concludes at 1:58 am.   Easter morning was a groggy one for many families in the area.

 

Highlight #1: 1998.  After finishing third in their division, the Caps rode hot goaltender Olaf Kolzig to the finals for the first time in franchise history.  Never mind that they got swept by Detroit.  And never mind that they took advantage of a busted bracket (upsets of Pittsburgh and New Jersey meant they would have better records than each of their playoff foes in the first three rounds).  Even the teal eagle jerseys couldn’t ruin this run.

 

Heartbreak #1:  2010.  After winning the President’s Trophy, the high-flying offensive juggernaut looked as though it was ready to finally crown Alex Ovechkin (career high 59 assists), Nicklas Backstrom (career highs in goals and assists) and Mike Green (before the injuries).  After taking a 3-1 first round series lead over Montreal (and posting 19 goals)…they somehow forgot the league changed the format to best-of-seven back in the 1980’s.  Yes, the Canadiens Jaroslav Halak somehow conjured up the spirits of Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy to limit the #1 offense in the league to 1 goal in games 5, 6 and 7.  But to lose in the first round after 82 games of positive reinforcement?  The Bruce Boudreau regime would never be the same–making its eventual departure less than 20 months later.

Timing is everything.  On the day of the first home NBA playoff game in DC since 2008, the Redskins make Robert Griffin III available to the media.  On the morning after a tough Game 3 loss by the Wizards, the Capitals make a regime change by firing Coach Adam Oates and not giving General Manger George McPhee a new contract.  A sleepy DC that had been on edge for two weeks awaiting word of the status of a GM that went back to the team’s final days in Landover received quite a shock at brunch.  For the first time in a while, the Capitals are the area franchise in the biggest transition.

It had to happen.  Not many General Managers last for 17 years at any spot…especially if they haven’t delivered a Stanley Cup.  The closest the Caps got under GM GM was in his first season at the helm when the Teal Eagle jersey clad bunch (unless they were sporting the alternate Capitol + sticks top) got swept in the Finals by Detroit.  Some compare the Caps reaching the Finals in McPhee’s first season to Maryland football winning the ACC in Ralph Friedgen’s first campaign;  both had initial success and were ride out the capital of their initial success with a nucleus not completely of their doing.  And both came under fire years later when teams completely built with their players faltered.

Location, location, location– some say that McPhee was able to extend his stay in DC because the Caps were realigned from the competitive Atlantic Division into the Southeast early in his tenure.  And while Tampa Bay and Carolina won Cups in the seasons before and after the lockout, the grouping certainly seemed “Southleast” the last couple of years (2013 in particular).  Once in a division with a questionable name but quality competition, the Caps may have been waiting for that April awakening that always occurred against division foes– only to find the Metropolitan not nearly as forgiving.

McPhee tried to get the team back to the Finals by adding high-priced veterans until the team got too old…and owner Ted Leonsis with being patient about McPhee developing a plan to get this team built from the ground up.  After reaching the postseason in 2008 and winning a first round series in 2009, the Caps were poised to make noise in 2010 as the President’s Cup Trophy winner.  But a 3-1 First Round series lead evaporated against Montreal Goalie Jaroslav Halak– and since then the team’s been chasing its proverbial tail.  Switching styles and goalies like socks.  Making reactive instead of proactive moves.  In that way Adam Oates was the perfect final coach of the McPhee era:  juggling lines not just between games but between periods.

The team finished 13th in scoring and 21st in goals against this past winter:  instead of blaming a revolving door between the pipes (four netminders…with Jarslav Halak fittingly coming to the Caps via trade to wrap up the insanity), a bad blue line didn’t help things.  Fourteen defenseman saw ice time this season–and only three (Alzner, Carlson, Green) played at least 55 games.  There seemed to be constant movement up and down I-83 to minor league Hershey– providing a lack of consistency that seemed to provide problems on a regular basis.  The inability to bolster the blue line was one of the key factors in the Caps being unable to make the playoffs.  How many quick goals were allowed?  How many 2-goal leads evaporated?  At times the defense was offensive…and not in a good way.

Another factor in the team’s decline was the lack of even-strength success for Alex Ovechkin (24 of his 51 goals and 15 of his 28 assists came on the power play–add in a shorthanded assist and the majority of his points came in special teams situations).  Some blame can be fixed on the GM– the lack of a solid #2 center definitely hurt– but some blame can be placed on the coach.  Instead of keeping Ovechkin with Backstrom– the first line had a slot-machine feel to it.  And unfortunately the Caps rarely got three pineapples in a row.

Seventeen years is a long time to be anywhere.  The Capitals are definitely the better for being under George McPhee’s guidance…but the time has come for a fresh perspective and different approach to building around the current nucleus before it gets too old (six of the top seven goal-scorers from this years team were at least 28).  A new GM with his coach in charge.  Where as the pressure was previously on McPhee to make things work with the coach…and the coach to make things work with Ovechkin/Backstrom/Green/goalie du jour, the next era will be on the shoulders of #8.  Will the captain be able to adjust to a new regime?  George McPhee’s legacy is complete.  Adam Oates’ legacy, however brief as coach, is set.  How Alex Ovechkin will go down in Caps history is up to him as much as it will be dependent on the moves made this spring by his owner.