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A legacy defined as Alex Ovechkin, Capitals claim first Stanley Cup title

A legacy defined as Alex Ovechkin, Capitals claim first Stanley Cup title

LAS VEGAS — Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals are Stanley Cup champions.

At long last.

I’ve got to be honest, there have been (many) times over the past few years when I wondered if I’d ever have the privilege of typing those words.

And yet here we are.

Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals are Stanley Cup champions.

Here’s what it means to the long-suffering fans of Washington D.C., the 44-year-old franchise and the legacy of its superstar captain:  

To the area, it means we’re no longer the swamp of pro sports cities.

As a lifelong Washington resident, I feel eminently qualified to weigh in on the subject.

This is the first championship in the Big Four sports since the Redskins claimed the Lombardi Trophy in 1992.

With the exception of the Caps’ previous run, way back in 1998, we hadn’t even come close to planning a parade in the years since. Instead, we’ve suffered through multiple postseason indignities, authored by division champions that appeared poised to win it all…only to fall flat on their face. The Caps did it. The Nationals and Redskins followed suit. Then the Caps did it again, and then again. Indeed, in recent years, being a D.C. sports fan required a measure of delusion—and perhaps some therapy. No more.

For the franchise, it ends four decades of futility.

By the mid-1980s—the teams of my youth—the Caps had become perennial postseason invitees. But were any of those squads actually good enough to make a legitimate run at a championship? That’s debatable.

Then, on June 26, 2004, everything changed. The Caps drafted Alexander Ovechkin and, within a couple of seasons, the Young-Guns-Rock-The-Red era was in full swing. As the beat writer for The Washington Post from 2004-2011, I enjoyed a front row seat and, occasionally, a peek behind the curtain of the thrilling highs and soul-snatching lows.

As it turned out, winning hockey’s Holy Grail, is much more difficult than anyone imagined. In 2010, 2016 and 2017, the Caps iced the best team in the regular season and entered the playoffs as the No. 1 seed. Three times the curse of the Presidents’ Trophy had other ideas. Interestingly, this WASN’T supposed to be the year. The two-year window was supposedly closed.

This was supposed to be a transition year.

Instead, it became THE year thanks to an unlikely confluence of occurrences.

Led by Ovechkin, the stars played like stars. Young players emerged. Unheralded career grinders stepped up. A free agent head coach pushed all the right buttons. And, perhaps most important, the group became a team in every sense of the word—a critical step in the process that for some reason had eluded previous versions.  

To Ovechkin, this means everything.

Just look at the many GIFs of his emotional outbursts during these playoffs.

Not to minimize what the Cup to the other two dozen players and coaches, but it’s different for Ovi, the first Russian-born player to captain a Cup champion. He’s been the face of the league for 13 years and the face of the franchise for just as a long. And, right or wrong, his name had become synonymous with regular season accolades and postseason failure. Well, no more. Three MVPs. Seven goal scoring titles. A points title. And now, No. 8’s impressive resume also includes the crowning achievement for a sure first ballot Hall of Famer: a Cup.

It’s okay if you’d started to doubt. But you’re still here. And, now, so is the Cup.

Repeat after me. Say it loud. Say it proud.

Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals are Stanley Cup champions.  

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Defense optional as Caps handed 8-5 loss in Chicago

Defense optional as Caps handed 8-5 loss in Chicago

The Chicago Blackhawks handed the Capitals their fifth straight loss on Sunday in an ugly 8-5 defeat. All five of Washington's goals came from defensemen as the team's top forwards continued to struggle.

Here are five reasons the Caps lost.

Missed early opportunities

The game got off to a great start. Tom Wilson fed Jakub Vrana in the middle for a great early opportunity and Lars Eller had another shot with the rebound. Washington also got a power play less than two minutes into the game and was brilliant with the setup, keeping the puck in the zone for the full two minutes and getting a number of high-quality opportunities.

But they didn’t score and that soon loomed very large.

Brandon Saad put Chicago on the board 6:36 into the first and Patrick Kane scored 80 seconds later to make it 2-0, thus erasing the Caps’ strong start.

The goals have been hard to come by for the Caps so when they had the opportunity to take the early lead, they absolutely had to finish. They didn’t and the game got away from them as a result.

A bad play by Madison Bowey

Bowey will be cringing at the replay of the Saad goal for a while. Saad broke the puck out of the defensive zone and carried it into the neutral zone. Bowey had a bead on him until Saad cut to the center. Suddenly Bowey was caught flat footed. He reached for Saad with a weak stick check which Saad easily fought through with no real resistance and he was in on net. He finished the play with the game’s first goal.

 An own-goal

This was really the moment when you realized this was not going to be a good day for Washington.

Down 2-0, Brooks Orpik managed to sneak a softy through goalie Colin Delia to make it 2-1. Just 28 seconds later, however, bad luck struck the Caps yet again.

Dmitry Orlov and Jonathan Toews battled for the puck right in front of the crease and it bounced into he air. Orlov swiped at it with his glove to try to clear it from danger, but instead knocked it right over Holtby and into the net. The own goal made it 3-1 and signaled that Washington was in for a long day.

An ill-advised penalty

This game felt like it quickly was getting out of hand. Somehow, however, the Caps managed to keep things close. Dmitry Orlov snuck another squeaker through Delia in the second and John Carlson fired a one-timer early in the third to make the score 4-3. All of a sudden, the Caps had signs of life. With all the momentum on their side, however, Nicklas Backstrom was whistled for hooking Toews just 23 seconds later.

You could tell what was about to happen.

Sure enough, Kane scored 13 seconds into the power play to restore the Blackhawks’ two-goal lead.

The Toews hat trick

Once again, Washington tried to battle back. Matt Niskanen scored with just over six minutes remaining in the game, the fifth goal from a Caps’ defenseman, to pull the score to 6-5. Toews provided the coffin nail just over a minute later with an absolutely brutal play on Orlov.

Toews entered the offensive zone and Orlov took an awful approach. Toews finessed the puck right in front of Orlov which he should have been able to easily sweep away. Instead, he whiffed completely allowing Toews to regain the puck, step past Orlov and fired it under the pad and into the net.

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Devante Smith-Pelly named a starter in return to Chicago after ugly racial taunts

Devante Smith-Pelly named a starter in return to Chicago after ugly racial taunts

The top line for the Capitals on Sunday against the Chicago Blackhawks is Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie, but the starting lineup is Ovechkin, Backstrom and Devante Smith-Pelly. Why the change?

It all has to do with the last time the Caps visited Chicago nearly a year ago.

On Feb. 17, 2018, Washington went into the United Center and were obliterated by the Blackhawks 7-1. But that wasn’t the ugliest thing to happen that night.

While sitting in the penalty box, Devante Smith-Pelly faced racial taunts from some Chicago fans who began chanting “basketball, basketball” at him.

In the wake of the incident, Smith-Pelly handled himself about as gracefully as one could. So, in the team’s return to Chicago Sunday, head coach Todd Reirden felt he should be on the ice for the national anthem.

According to Pierre McGuire during the game broadcast, the idea came from Oshie himself, who advocated that Smith-Pelly start in his place.

The starters traditionally stand on the ice for the anthem while the rest of the players stand at the bench.

Smith-Pelly has remained active against racism in the sport. He and teammate John Carlson invited a youth hockey team whose lone African-American player had faced racial taunts during a game to the Caps’ game on Monday.

Sunday’s move by Reirden is a classy tribute to Smith-Pelly who handled an ugly situation about as well as one could. 

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