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Was 2019 a missed Stanley Cup opportunity for the Capitals?

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USA TODAY Sports

Was 2019 a missed Stanley Cup opportunity for the Capitals?

The Boston Bruins’ Game 6 victory Sunday ensured a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final between Boston and the St. Louis Blues.

A series that no one saw coming is going to go the distance. Whatever happens on Wednesday, it will be a fitting ending to a crazy postseason. But as the playoffs draw to a close and we sit just one game away from a new champion being crowned, the question that haunts the city of Washington is this: Was this season a missed opportunity for the Capitals?

After the first round, the answer to this question seemed obvious.

The Presidents’ Trophy winning Tampa Bay Lightning were swept, as were the Pittsburgh Penguins — frequent foil of the Caps. On the other side of the bracket, division winners Calgary and Winnipeg also suffered early defeats. It especially stings considering that the Hurricanes were able to expose the Islanders — who would have been Washington’s second-round opponent — in a sweep. The conference final would have matched the Caps up with a Boston team they have dominated in recent years. Washington has won 14 of its last 15 contests against the Bruins.

Boston certainly took advantage of a suddenly wide-open bracket, as it lost only twice in the second and third round and blew through the rest of the conference.

As we are talking about the NHL, however, it is important to remember that had the Caps beaten Carolina in the first round, that is no guarantee they would be sitting where Boston is now playing the Blues for the Cup.

The Islanders would have proven a tougher matchup for Washington than Carolina because it would have meant facing former head coach Barry Trotz, who knows the Caps players as well as anyone and would have had his team prepared to matchup against them.

Tuukka Rask has been unreal for Boston in the playoffs, and Washington knows better than most how a hot goalie can turn a series. Then it would have meant playing a Blues team that has the feel of destiny about them after being dead last in the NHL on Jan. 3. St. Louis’ turnaround began that day with a win over… the Caps. In fact, the Blues dominated the Caps twice during their impressive turnaround.

So while Washington’s early playoff exit may sting, Caps fans can take at least some comfort in the fact that the unpredictability of the Stanley Cup Playoffs means that though a run to a second Cup was certainly possible, it was also far from guaranteed.

Still, knowing that the road to the Cup for the Caps in 2019 ran through Carolina, Brooklyn, Boston and St. Louis, that does not seem as nearly as daunting as the gauntlet Washington faced in their 2018 Cup run.

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Todd Reirden brings champs in locker room to keep Capitals motivated

Todd Reirden brings champs in locker room to keep Capitals motivated

They say D.C. is the new title town, and Washington's head coach Todd Reirden is looking to capitalize on that momentum by keeping that energy around his team the best way he knows how: hearing straight from the champs themselves.

On the Junkies, Reirden recounted bringing in Mystics' star forward Elena Delle Donne and Nationals' outfielder Adam Eaton, saying he invited them to remind the 2018 Stanley Cup champions "what it feels like [to win], have people that win championships and especially fellow athletes that are right in the D.C. area."

"I think that's something that kind of got the fire burning a little bit, and it has been burning, to be 100% truthful, since we lost last year," Reirden said.

The Capitals lost to the Carolina Hurricanes in a seven-game first round of Stanley Cup Playoffs that ended in double-overtime.

Washington sits atop the National Hockey League, leading everyone by at least five points -- Washington has 32 points through 20 games, while the second-place Islanders have 27 points through 17 games.

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T.J. Oshie skates with military families as part of Courage Caps initiative

T.J. Oshie skates with military families as part of Courage Caps initiative

Capitals winger T.J. Oshie and his teammates hosted an event supporting the TAPS program, which helps military families who have lost a loved one in service to their country 

The Capitals hosted an afternoon skate on Thursday for dozens of military family members who have lost a loved one during their service. 

Oshie and teammates Garnet Hathaway and Nick Jensen were on the ice at MedStar Iceplex in Arlington. They skated. They took pictures. They signed autographs. It was all part of an annual Courage Caps event for members of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). 

That organization has helped support over 90,000 families of fallen military heroes with grief and trauma resources, emotional support, camps for children and seminars and retreats for adults struggling with loss.

Sale of Courage Caps t-shirts and caps have helped bring in almost $1 million since 2011. The merchandise will be available at the organization’s team stores at Capital One Arena and MedStar Iceplex all November. The Laborers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) is a supporting partner. 

Families not only interacted with Oshie, Hathaway and Jensen on the ice. Captain, the Capitals’ service dog in training, made an appearance along with mascot Slapshot and members of the ALL CAPS crew.

Oshie raced two boys and appeared to lose to the smaller of them just as they crossed center ice, laughing all the way. Jensen helped another novice skater by escorting her around the ice. Afterward, the Capitals and Papa John’s hosted a pizza party for the families.

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