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Ending D.C.'s playoff semifinals slump: A look back at 1998

Ending D.C.'s playoff semifinals slump: A look back at 1998

The Capitals advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals in the Stanley Cup Playoffs drains the swamp of despair that has plagued Washington, D.C. sports fan for two decades. 

With their 2-1 overtime victory in Game 6 of their playoff series against the Penguins, the Capitals became the first Washington, D.C. major professional sports team to advance to the conference finals since 1998.

 To put in perspective how long this drought lasted we look back at how different the sports landscape was on May 23, 1998, when the Capitals opened up Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Dominik Hasek and the Buffalo Sabres.

D.C. PLAYOFF DROUGHT: A LOOK BACK AT 1998

NHL:

— The Capitals began the 1997-98 season playing home games at US Airways Arena in Landover, MD, and finished the season playing home games at the MCI Center in Washington, D.C.

— Future Capitals Head Coaches Dale Hunter & Adam Oates were on the Washington Capitals roster.

— NHL had only 26 teams (The Predators, Jets, Golden Knights, Blue Jackets, and Wild have been added since).

— Atlanta Thrashers, which now play in Winnipeg, didn’t yet exist.

MLB:

— The Nationals were still roughly 7 years away from being a franchise.

— The Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays were only one month into their inaugural seasons.

— The Montreal Expos starting left fielder was FP Santangelo. FP Santangelo now does color-commentary for the Nationals. 

— Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr, and Randy Johnson were still Seattle Mariners.

— Ichiro Suzuki was a member of the Orix Blue Wave in Osaka, Japan.

— Bartolo Colon was starting just his second full MLB season with the Cleveland Indians. 

NFL:

— Redskins were owned by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation and played at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium, which had opened less than a year prior.

— Redskins had no 1st round pick and selected Tight End Stephen Alexander from Oklahoma at No. 48 in the second round of the1998 NFL Draft.

— The most recent Redskins game had been started by Jeff Hostetler.

— There were 30 teams in the NFL split into 6 divisions. The Seahawks were still in the AFC and the Cardinals were division rivals with the Redskins.

— The Baltimore Ravens had amassed a 10-21-1- in its first two NFL seasons. The Cleveland Browns did not exist. 

— Peyton Manning, the No. 1 overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft, had yet to take an NFL snap.

— NFL icons John Elway and Dan Marino were still playing for the Broncos and Dolphins, respectively.

NBA:

— Washington's basketball franchise finished its first season known as the "Wizards" instead of the "Bullets."

— MCI Center was less than six months old. 

— NBA on TNT color commentator Chris Webber and Miami Heat assistant coach Juwan Howard were the Wizards leading scorers.

— Michael Jordan and the Bulls were vying for their sixth NBA Championship.

— The NBA was made up of 29 teams in four divisions. 

— The original Charlotte Hornets existed with no team yet in New Orleans.

— Seattle SuperSonics comfortably existed with a 61-21 record. There was no team yet in Oklahoma City.

— The Vancouver Grizzlies were still a thing and had not yet relocated to Memphis. 

— Markelle Fultz still 6 days away from being born in Upper Marlboro, MD.

Miscellaneous:

— John Thompson, Jr. was still the head basketball coach at Georgetown.

— Ralph Friedgen was still almost three years away from being named head football coach at Maryland.

—  DC United was in just its second year of MLS existence and had not yet won the first of four consecutive MLS titles. 

— Tiger Woods had only won one major championship. 

— The Bowl Championship Series had yet to exist.

MORE CAPITALS PLAYOFF NEWS:

 

    CAPITALS EXTRA PODCAST: GAME 6

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    Key Caps questions: Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Key Caps questions: Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?

    The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

    Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan are here to help you through the offseason doldrums. They will discuss key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

    Today's question: Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?

    Tarik: The term ‘Stanley Cup Hangover’ exists because, well, it’s a real thing. And the Caps, like all teams that battle into early June, are vulnerable to suffering from it next season.

    Why? Think about it. No. 1, the core group just completed the longest season—106 games—of their lives (and, somewhere, the party is still going). No. 2, the top guys aren't exactly a bunch of spring chickens. No. 3, human nature.

    A little more on that last one. Alex Ovechkin and Co. have spent the entirety of their professional hockey careers chasing Lord Stanley’s Cup. And now they have it. At long last. Hoisting the Cup was as much a moment to cherish as it was a gigantic relief for a team that had been labeled perennial underachievers. Shifting gears from that feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment back to hunger and determination is difficult.

    Something else that worries me a bit? They don’t have experience dealing with a truncated offseason. Rest and recovery matter. And they aren’t going to get much of either this summer.

    All that said, they don’t have to stumble through the 2018-19 season. If you're looking at things from the optimist's point of view, the Cup run did something for Ovechkin and his teammates that none of the previous failures could: It showed them EXACTLY what it takes to play deep into the spring.

    Eleven out of 12 forwards from the championship squad are expected back. Five of six defensemen and the goalie are returning, as well. Sure, they’ve got a new head coach, but he’s been here for four years already, giving him a huge advantage over a bench boss who’s starting from scratch. So there’s continuity and chemistry already built in.

    I look at it like this: The core guys who’ve been around a while—Ovechkin, Backstrom, Carlson, Holtby, etc.—have a rare opportunity before them. After coming up short for so many years, they’ve been gifted an extraordinary chance to make up for lost time over the next 12-24 months. In fact, Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Backstrom, Oshie, Eller, Carlson, Niskanen, Orlov, Kempny and Holtby have two more years together, as a core, before the next round of tough decisions will need to be made.

    But it’s going to be up to them. Are they going to be satisfied with one Cup? Or will they get greedy? I’m betting on the latter.

    Regan: The Capitals could enter next season hungry, motivated, in the right mindset, completely prepared in every way to avoid a Cup hangover and it may still happen. Why? Because the Capitals (and Vegas for that matter) will enter next season with less time to rest, recover and prepare after a grueling playoff run than any other team in the NHL.

    First things first, no, I do not think the Caps will struggle because they are are partying too hard this summer and won't be ready for the start of the season.

    It took a long time Washington to finally reach the top of the mountain. It won't be lost on Alex Ovechkin, or any of the veterans, that the year he came into training camp early and in really good shape, that was the year he was able to lead his team to the promised land. Considering all the struggles, all the early playoff exits, all the years it took to finally win, I expect the veterans will look at how they prepared last season and take that lesson to heart going into camp. Those players will enter the fall in as good a shape as the time they have this offseason will allow them to be.

    But this team is not just composed of veterans of the Ovechkin era who suffered through all of those postseason struggles.

    What about the youngsters? Will Jakub Vrana have the same motivation as Ovechkin or a Nicklas Backstrom to show up to camp ready next season? What about Chandler Stephenson, Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey? If any of the team's young players aren't exactly in "game shape" by the fall, they won't be the first and they certainly won't be the last to struggle with early career playoff success.

    There's also a new head coach to consider. In a lot of ways, I think coming into the season with a new coach in Todd Reirden will help. I don't expect too much adjustment under a coach the team knows very well, but I do expect more motivation at the start of the regular season than you usually see from a team coming off a championship.

    There are a lot of reasons why the Caps could actually avoid a Cup hangover, but the fact is that time puts them at a disadvantage. Even if they overcome all the other factors, there's nothing they can do to suddenly give themselves more time to recover and to train. For that reason alone, I do expect a few early-season struggles from the defending champs.

    Other key questions

    How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?

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    Capitals' T.J. Oshie had so much fun golfing, drinking through shirt again at celebrity golf tournament

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    @NBCSports Twitter

    Capitals' T.J. Oshie had so much fun golfing, drinking through shirt again at celebrity golf tournament

    Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo may have won the American Century Championships celebrity golf tournament this weekend, but T.J. Oshie definitely had the most fun.

    Using the Modified Stableford scoring format for the tournament — which included several pro and retired athletes, such as Steph Curry, Aaron Rodgers, Larry Fitzgerald, Carson Palmer, Charles Barkley and Joe Pavelski — Oshie finished with 11 points, tying for 48th with NFL Hall of Famer Tim Brown and Golf Channel host Lisa Cornwell. 

    But the Capitals' winger's score didn't really matter because Oshie was out on the Lake Tahoe golf course in Nevada just having fun with his family and continuing the epic celebration as a new Stanley Cup champion. Obviously, that meant playing and chugging a beer through his t-shirt as 'We Are The Champions' played.

    His brother, Taylor, was his caddy, and at one point, Oshie borrowed his brother's beer helmet while putting. He sunk it, and it was amazing.

    Yeah, Oshie had a great weekend. Here's a look at some other moments from his weekend on Lake Tahoe.

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