Capitals

Auburn's Lutzenkirchen reduced to cheerleader role

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Auburn's Lutzenkirchen reduced to cheerleader role

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) Philip Lutzenkirchen faced the tough choice of shutting down his Auburn career or risking far bigger problems down the line.

Two weeks ago, the Tigers' tight end chose to have season-ending hip surgery to repair a torn labrum and remove three bone spurs, ending a frustrating final year during which he couldn't hold his blocks as long as he used to and felt slower in running routes.

Now, Lutzenkirchen is rehabilitating trying to get ready for the Senior Bowl in January if possible, or at least the NFL combine to get ready for the draft. He said doctors told him putting off surgery might have led to hip replacement before his 30th birthday.

This is an especially tough week for Lutzenkirchen, who was one of the Tigers' most popular players and accomplished tight ends.

The native of Marietta, Ga., will watch from the sidelines when Auburn (2-7, 0-6 Southeastern Conference) takes on No. 5 Georgia Saturday night.

``Those are my rivals, my buddies over there playing for Georgia and it's going to be tough being on the sidelines for that one,'' said Lutzenkirchen, who hadn't spoken to reporters since Auburn announced his season was over. ``I'm just going to have to be as supportive as I can. I might still be the most fired up guy on that field even though I'll be on the sidelines. I'm just excited to root my guys on.''

Auburn could certainly use Lutzenkirchen on the field. He remains second on the team with 15 catches for 139 yards despite missing the past three games. His 14 career touchdown catches is a school record for tight ends, and his game-winning touchdown catch against Alabama to keep the national title run going was one of the season's more memorable plays. It sparked an impromptu end zone dance later dubbed ``The Lutzie'' that's drawn more than 105,000 views on YouTube.

``He'll always be remembered for certain catches that he made and some spectacular ones at that, and some that his timing was impeccable as in the Iron Bowl two years ago,'' Tigers coach Gene Chizik said. ``His blocking and everything he's brought to the table other than the things that you even visibly see him do as a player.

``What he's like in the locker room, what he's like in encouraging young guys ... he's just always been one of those guys. And that's why I think most of our guys on our team have a very high level of regard. It's because he's just a different guy.''

The Tigers also will likely be without tight end C.J. Uzomah (right hand) for this game. Uzomah had 90 receiving yards against Texas A&M, while Brandon Fulse is used as a blocker and doesn't have a reception and Blake Burgess is a former walk-on who caught his first career pass against New Mexico State.

Lutzenkirchen has been missed in an offense where he and receiver Emory Blake have accounted for 54 of the team's 117 catches.

He said an injection before the LSU game didn't help and by the Mississippi game two weeks later ``I just knew something wasn't right.''

A Birmingham doctor advised Lutzenkirchen to have the surgery, which he said typically has a three-month recovery time.

Lutzenkirchen said he'll start running and walking on an underwater treadmill soon and hopes to be jogging within a couple of months

Lutzenkirchen said the hip problem first bothered him in fall camp before last season.

``It's just really frustrating as a player, because you never want to admit that something like that is hindering you and making you not play to your full potential,'' he said. ``I just realized that C.J. and Brandon could probably do a lot better than I was doing at that point in the season.

``I think that showed with C.J. having a big game and Brandon blocking really well. And (Blake) Burgess has been catching the ball too. I knew it was best for me and best for the team.''

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What winning the Stanley Cup would actually mean, a fan's perspective

What winning the Stanley Cup would actually mean, a fan's perspective

Just four more wins. It hardly seems possible.

For only the second time ever and for the first time in 20 years, the Capitals will be playing in the Stanley Cup Final. And they could actually win it.

They’re not there yet. The Vegas Golden Knights have cruised through the playoffs thus far and continue to shock the hockey community with their postseason run. Washington’s players need to think about how to beat Vegas, not what happens after.

But while the players cannot and should not look ahead, for fans, it’s hard not to. It’s hard not to dream about that moment when Gary Bettman hands the Stanley Cup over to Alex Ovechkin.

Winning the conference is always a huge achievement that should be celebrated, but this year is different than 1998’s run. Back in 1998, the Caps played against a Detroit Red Wings team that is one of the greatest teams in NHL history. They were the defending champions after sweeping the Philadelphia Flyers the year before. Washington suffered the same fate as the Flyers, losing in just four games.

This year is a battle between two more evenly matched teams. Picking the Caps to win this series is not outlandish or crazy at all. This year, they could actually do it.

So before the puck drops for Game 1 and all dreams are pushed aside for the realities of what may happen, allow a fan a chance to think about what seeing the Washington Capitals actually hoist the Stanley Cup would actually mean.

Breaking news: Washington is not Canada and the Capitals are not an original six team. Hockey is not ingrained in the culture of D.C. the way it is in Canadian cities or in places like Boston and Detroit. Unlike in Vegas where the success of the team in its inaugural season has caught the city by storm, the Capitals won only eight games in their first year. Eight wins doesn’t exactly help a team grow roots in the community.

If you’ve been a fan of the Capitals long enough, chances are you’ve seen some pretty tough times. There have been plenty of playoff disappointments in this team’s history even before the current era. There was also the rebuild that began before the lockout that saw a very bad team play in front of a half empty stadium for several years. And they would not have even gotten to that point without the “Save the Caps” campaign in 1982.

But through it all, that small group of hardcore fans kept coming back. Some may have wavered from time to time, but they came back because being a hockey fan is different than other sports.

It’s hard to be a sports fan in any city with an NFL team and not follow football. Football may not even be your sport, but there is almost on obligation to following it because coverage and interest in football is so prevalent. It’s hard to avoid.

You have to seek out hockey

Hockey at times has been viewed as more of a niche sport than mainstream. Before the age of Alex Ovechkin, if you were from Washington and you were following the Caps, it was because you loved both.

So why did those Caps fans keep coming back after so much heartbreak? Because despite all of the disappointing seasons we always walked away telling ourselves, this will just make it that much sweeter when they do win.

One day, it will all be worth it.

That’s why we watch sports, isn’t it? We watch with the knowledge that sometimes, our hearts will be broken but it’s OK because the good will always outweigh the bad. And the worse the bad times are, the better the good times will feel afterward.

We kept telling ourselves that for a long time, but admittedly some years were tougher to get past than others. It’s hard to keep believing when you’ve seen your rival beat you nine times out of 10 in the playoffs heading into this year’s postseason. It’s hard when a team cannot seem to overcome its playoff history despite having one of the best players of all-time on its roster.

When Ovechkin was drafted, the question we all asked ourselves was not whether he would bring a Cup to Washington, but how many? He brought new fans with him, he brought excitement with him, he brought validation with him…at least initially.

But with every passing year, doubt began to creep into our minds. The upset loss to Montreal in 2010 stung, but Ovechkin was still 24. There was still hope that one day, he would still win the Cup.

Now at 32 years old, many did not know what to expect from the Great 8 this year. When would decline start to show in his game?

Ovechkin is part of why we want the Cup so badly. We want to see the best player in this franchise’s history honored. We want to see the player who transformed hockey in Washington from niche sport to mainstream take his proper place in the sport’s history. No one wants to hear him described as one of the best players to never win a Cup because he should be remembered as one of the best players, period.

But that’s not all of it.

This is about all those times we told ourselves this would all be worth it someday. This is about how we used to cope with the sting of another postseason heartbreak by thinking about what it would feel like when it was finally our year. This is about how we stuck with the team when the stadium was half empty. This is about the blue jersey in our closet with the eagle on the front and the black one hanging next to it with the capitol building on the front. This is about all the 5, 12, 32 and 37 jerseys. This is about replacing Esa Tikkanen as our lasting Stanley Cup memory.

When the Washington Redskins have a rough year, those fans who can remember them think about those three Super Bowl wins. When the Washington Wizards fall short, those fans who can remember it think about the championship in 1978. Even if you’re too young to remember the Super Bowls or NBA championship, those banners still give your team a sense of validation. They have their little piece of history to be proud of.

That’s what this would mean. A Stanley Cup would be not just for the players, it would be for the fans who stuck it out through thick and thin, those fans who despite everything still supported their team. This win would be about the Capitals forever earning their spot in the heart of Washington sports alongside the Redskins and Wizards.

This would be about never having to tell ourselves again that someday all the love we pour into this team will pay off.

A Stanley Cup would mean finally getting to experience a championship and realizing, yeah, it was all worth it.

Let’s go Caps!

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Capital One Bank just made a Caps-themed update to its logo and we're here for it

Capital One Bank just made a Caps-themed update to its logo and we're here for it

Capital One is repping the district in a big way: by changing their logo to incorporate the Capitals' font and name. 

The new Capital One logo appears on the bank's websites and social media ahead of the Caps' Stanley Cup Final games, which begin on Memorial Day Monday in Vegas.

The McLean, Virginia, based bank recently purchased the naming rights to the Capitals' home arena, formerly known as "Verizon Center." And in the first year of its renaming, the Capitals have advanced to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 20 years. Coincidence? 

We've seen a small, Northern Virginia town change its name to "Capitalsville," and now Capital One Bank is all-in for the Caps.

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