Photo by Todd Dybas for The Sports Capitol
How The sports capitol covered the capitals' stanley cup march
BY BEN STANDIG | JUNE 9, 2018
There is no smooth entry point when starting a D.C sports website. With one team from each of the four main professional leagues plus several other squads adored by their backers, someone is always playing. The day we opened shop, Feb. 26, the Washington Capitals played their 63rd game of the regular season. They got smoked 5-1 at Columbus. Things would get better.
The 2017-18 season, also the 43rd in franchise history, culminated in the Capitals striking it rich in Las Vegas. Thursday’s 4-3 win in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final clinched Washington’s first title.
The Sports Capitol is new, but our roster is experienced. Some of our team grew up living the local sports pain so we get what this championship means fo the franchise, for the Great 8, for the city. Here are the moments during this electric run that mattered most since we launched.
The first – ‘Lives change in a blink at trade deadline’ was Brian McNally’s initial article as our Capitals Insider. It examined what happens to players when the call comes that they now belong elsewhere. These moves also alter team’s fortunes. Soon after this article, Washington acquired Michal Kempny, who became a key cog in its defensive push.
“A night that goes [almost] right. — The Capitals’ outdoor win at the Naval Academy over the Toronto Maple Leafs. The brief power outage did turn into a postseason omen.
600 – “The ovations rippled down onto the ice one after another, building upon each other until acknowledged. Alex Ovechkin let the cheers wash over him as they have so many times in this building. His coach, Barry Trotz, noticed Ovechkin’s quiet intensity on Monday and figured this was the day. Back just in time from a week-long trip to Russia, Ovechkin’s wife, Nastya, had the same feeling. The elusive 600th career goal, a mark only 19 NHL players had reached before him, was coming against the Winnipeg Jets tonight.”
‘I’ve always believed that you need to earn your minutes’ – That was Braden Holtby stiff-upper-liping Washington’s goalie situation in mid-March. With the playoffs a month out, Holtby lost his way while Philipp Grubauer stood on his head nightly. This would lead to Grubauer starting the first two games of the playoffs. The Capitals lost both. Holtby entered – and earned every minute from there.
Metro closed – The Capitals clinched the division title with a 3-1 win at Pittsburgh. “It’s a nice accomplishment,” Washington defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “It feels a little different this year just because we have a different team. The situation was different. I don’t know. Good job by the guys. It’s not a small thing. It’s not our big goal, but…it’s something.”
Eller Yeller – The playoffs begin. Washington loses the opening two home games to Columbus. Panic ensues along with “here we go again” thoughts. Game 3 includes Holtby in goal and double overtime. Next goal wins. If the Blue Jackets find the net, adios, hope. Columbus’ Cam Atkinson hit the post in the extra session. Lars Eller struck for the game-winning and series-saving score in the second. Washington won the next three games to advance.
20 years of anguish washed away in a night – The Capitals didn’t receive a trophy for vanquishing the hated Pittsburgh Penguins. The series-clinching Game 6 win just felt damn good after years of headaches and heartbreak. Not that Washington had any interest in looking back. “Evgeny Kuznetsov, the precocious risk-taker who scored the game-winning goal in overtime Monday, said flatly with a heavy accent that he didn’t care about the past. They had played well, perhaps well enough that the series could have ended in just five games. The past was a remnant they didn’t ignore, but also did not latch on to as the reason to win this time. The idea was simpler: Just get it done.”
Caps beat Lightning in Game 6 and 7 in one night – Tampa Bay, ya blew it. Three consecutive wins meant entering Game 6 in Washington up 3-2. Maybe the Caps triumph at home, but a close loss shouldn’t wreck belief. Holtby did that. The Capitals goaltender struck the Lightning twice with shutouts in Game 6 (3-0) and 4-0 in a Game 7 rout. Washington trailed for the third consecutive series and rallied for the win. This time it wasn’t simply about advancing or revenge. This time it meant reaching the Stanley Cup final for the first time since 1998.
Frenimies in the final – The man who built the expansion Vegas Golden Knights and the Capitals’ front office leader know each other. Not just from time together in Washington, but as NHL players, college teammates and teenagers. Some bonds never snap. Some loosened with George McPhee and Brian MacLellan. “But the former teammates aren’t so tight anymore. McPhee and his staff, including MacLellan, built the Capitals into a contender. Years of postseason failures prompted a change in 2014 and MacLellan took over for his boss and friend. It led to a strained relationship. And now, four years later and against all odds, their teams will play for the Stanley Cup with Game 1 Monday in Las Vegas.” MacLellan said “It’s kind of a weird experience.” No doubt.
The Save – “Holts just makes the save of the year, maybe the save of a lifetime. It’s unreal,” said forward Jay Beagle speaking for all the jaw-dropped fans and observers who watched Holtby’s otherworldly stop late in Game 2. We don’t know exactly where the save ranks among the most iconic moments in D.C. sports history. We just know it’s in the mix.
Welcome home – The first Stanley Cup final game held in Washington in 20 years wasn’t certain to include Kuznetsov, who was on the business end of a crunching blow by Vegas defenseman Brayden McNabb in Game 2. His coach played coy for days but on the return flight from Vegas ahead of Game 3 sensed the talented center would deliver. “I knew Kuzy would elevate his game,” Trotz said. He was right.
Former Capitals rooting from afar – Peter Bondra believed the hockey gods were done being mean. Rod Langway and defenseman-turned-fisherman Sylvain Cote watched together. John Druce noticed Ovechkin matched him in the record books and he couldn’t have been happier.
‘Minor league’ fans finally major league winners – Chinatown? More like Titletown inside and definitely outside Capital One Arena just to watch a game three time zones away. “It’s like Woodstock for the Capital fans.”
Pros and Conn – Alex Ovechkin isn’t done. With a championship and Stanley Cup playoffs MVP, his résumé has no gaps, unlike that smile.
Finally — “Fucking right!”
Ben Standig is a host, writer and co-founder of The Sports Capitol. This D.C. area native grew up rooting for all the local squads and dabbled in the professional media world after college before making a full shift to sports writing in 2005. Since, Ben has covered every team and big event in town for several outlets including the Associated Press, NBCWashington.com and Scout.com.