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Alex Ovechkin's 4-goal night against Montreal in 2008 'turned the corner of the franchise'

Alex Ovechkin's 4-goal night against Montreal in 2008 'turned the corner of the franchise'

There's no question that Alex Ovechkin changed the trajectory of the Capitals franchise, but it didn't happen overnight. Ovechkin initially added some excitement to Washington hockey, but at least in the standings, it was just more of the same. The Caps earned only 70 points in each of Ovechkin's first two seasons and did not come close to qualifying for the playoffs. Everything changed in the 2007-08 season and on Jan. 31, 2008, people began to realize it.

The Caps played the Montreal Canadiens three times in January 2008. Montreal was one of the top teams in the NHL, but the Caps won in overtime in Montreal on Jan. 5. With a home and home later in the month, the Canadiens responded with an emphatic 4-0 win in Montreal on Jan. 29 before the two teams headed to Washington for the game on Jan. 31. The loss dropped the Caps' record to 23-23-5 and the playoffs seemed to be slipping away yet again.

Everything changed on Jan. 31.

In a rematch against the Canadiens, Ovechkin scored a hat trick in regulation and added a fourth goal for the overtime in a 5-4 win; and he did it even after breaking his nose earlier in the game.

"A feel was starting to build," goalie Ollie Kolzig said. The game was the focus of Monday's "Greatest Hits" broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. Kolzig joined Joe Beninati and Craig Laughlin to talk about the win and Ovechkin's performance.

The game was not polished by any stretch. Washington looked every bit the inexperienced, up-and-coming team, jumping out to a 3-0 lead and then allowing the Canadiens to crawl back. Montreal's comeback included a goal in the final second of the second period and the game-tying goal in the final minute of the third.

But where the Caps teams of past years would have collapsed, this time Ovechkin and the team would not be denied.


"A feel was starting to build. We're winning again, there's excitement, it's enjoyable to be a Caps' fan again," Kolzig said who credited this game as being the turning point.

He added, "We were finding wats to win hockey games."

After going 23-23-5, the Caps would close out the season 20-8-2 including seven straight wins to close out the season to claim the Southeast Division and reach the playoffs for the first time since 2003. Washington would go on to lose in the first round to the Philadelphia Flyers, but to Kolzig, the implications of the win on Jan. 31 and the 2007-08 season stretched far beyond just the 2008 postseason.

"This one turned the corner for the franchise in my opinion," Kolzig said. "We were coming off 3 dreadful seasons where losing was the norm."

That certainly changed in that year. After missing the playoffs for three straight seasons during a rebuild, the Caps have now reached the postseason in 11 of the last 12 and brought home the Stanley Cup in 2018, just ten years after Ovechkin's four-goal game.

To many, the Ovechkin era began in 2005 when he first suited up with the team and made his NHL debut. In many ways, however, the real Ovechkin era did not begin until Jan. 31, 2008.

Said Kolzig, "Everything was just coming together."

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How Capitals players grappled with the decision of whether to opt out of the 2020 postseason

How Capitals players grappled with the decision of whether to opt out of the 2020 postseason

Monday's 5 p.m. deadline came and went and, though a handful of players around the league decided to opt out of the 2020 postseason, none of the Capitals players did. But don't mistake this to mean it was an easy decision. For perhaps the first time in their lives, the players had to honestly ask themselves if they wanted to play hockey and whether it was even possible to play the sport they love without putting the people they love at risk.

"I think for me, we went through every single thing the NHLPA and the NHL threw at you since day one in terms of the health risks and everything and you're weighing your options," Carl Hagelin said.

"I think around the league a lot of guys had their own personal situations, whether it was their families or just how their last couple months have been," Brenden Dillon said. "I think for us as NHL players we respect any decision made regarding that."

It wasn't a difficult question for everyone.

"I'm pretty sure my wife support me, it doesn't matter what decision I will make," Ovechkin said, "But obviously I miss hockey and they miss hockey so for me it's not even a question to skip it or play."

Winning a Stanley Cup was of course a factor for many players.


When the 2020 postseason gets underway, almost five months will have passed since the league paused the season. With 24 teams in the postseason and over a full offseason break between games, there is a feeling that the Cup is truly up for grabs.

That is not something that players took lightly, but the pursuit of the Cup is not the only factor the players had to think about considering playing could potentially put one's family at risk.

"A lot of thoughts going into the decision, weighing the pros and cons," Lars Eller said. "For me personally, we're going to have a new addition to our family here in a couple weeks. I don't know when it's going to happen, but it's going to happen. But at the same time, I want to be with my team and also committed to that and want to win another Cup."

Eller's baby, his second child, is due Aug. 8. He said Tuesday that he intends to leave the bubble to be there for the birth.

Carl Hagelin is in a similar situation with his second child due in September.

"I spoke to my wife too and she said as long as you come back when the kid is born, you're welcome to leave," Hagelin said. "She knows hockey is a big part of my life and it's a big part of our family's life and so we have an opportunity here to win the Stanley Cup and that's the goal right now."


It's a tricky tightrope that the NHL players are now forced to walk, trying to balance the safety of their families with their desire to get back on the ice.

While Ovechkin may have been adamant that whether to play or not was "not even a question," he was also very clear that he felt safety was the top priority.

"That's the most important thing for us right now to get safe," Ovechkin said. "I think for right now in this type of situation, you have to be careful, you have to be 100-percent sure you're not going to get COVID and you're not going to bring it to your families."

While they may not have opted out, concerns over safety have led to some players and even team personnel to make significant sacrifices. Head coach Todd Reirden and his wife decided it was best for her to take their immunodeficient son, Travis, to Valparaiso, Ind. while Reirden went back to practice. Nicklas Backstrom left his family back in Sweden when he returned for training camp.

"I think we decide pretty early that I was going to go over myself," Backstrom said. "We liked our setup better for my fiancee and kids to stay back in Sweden there. It wasn't really a long conversation."

But even with all the extra precautions being taken by the players and with coronavirus cases spiking in various parts of the country, still not one Capitals player opted out.

The NHL and NHL Players' Association negotiated health and safety protocols in great detail for the 2020 return to play plan. The players seem to be very satisfied with the results given that the league needed the NHLPA to approve the protocols in order to return to play.


"I think everybody’s in a different situation at home with families and stuff and the one constant is that it’s an infectious disease and anybody can get it," Tom Wilson said, who is the team's player rep for the NHLPA. "I think we had to be confident in the protocols. We had to be confident that the league and the PA were taking all the different measures to make sure we’d be as safe as possible."

in the end, the players are back because they believe they can safely conclude the season given the protocols put in place by the NHL and NHLPA. The question is, are they right?

"Obviously we all love hockey and we want it back and if we can do it now and we're all very strict about this, I think we can make it happen," Backstrom said. "We all want sports back and we want to do what we love, you know?"

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Capitals to play Hurricanes in lone exhibition game before round robin tournament

Capitals to play Hurricanes in lone exhibition game before round robin tournament

The Capitals will play the Carolina Hurricanes at 4 p.m. on July 29 in each team's lone exhibition game before beginning the 2020 postseason, the league announced Tuesday.

The exhibition game will be played in the hub city of Toronto. Teams are scheduled to travel to their hub cities on July 26. Each of the 24 teams in the postseason will play one exhibition game before the postseason officially begins on Aug 1.


As the final seeding for the top-four seeds is not yet set, the Caps and Hurricanes could see each other again soon. It is possible for these two teams to play in the first round of the playoffs depending on where Washington finishes in the round robin and if Carolina defeats the New York Rangers in a best-of-five series in the qualifying round.


Here is the full exhibition schedule:

The broadcast information has not yet been announced.

In addition, the NHL has also set the start time for Washington's first round robin game. The Caps will play the Tampa Bay Lightning on Aug. 3 at 4 p.m. The start times for Washington's remaining two games have not yet been set.

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