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What the Stanley Cup means: A fan's perspective

What the Stanley Cup means: A fan's perspective

It’s been 26 years since Washington last celebrated a championship.

Twenty-six long years.

Washington has four major sports teams yet none has won a championship since January 26, 1992 when the Redskins won Super Bowl XXVI. That’s an entire generation of fans that have never known a championship, that have never gotten to experience what we got to experience on Thursday.

I’m in that generation.

I fell in love with sports when I was three years old. My parents took me to a Capitals-Winnipeg Jets (the old Jets) game at the Capital Centre in Landover. I remember the chill in the air, the crack of the puck on the sticks and, most of all, the celebration whenever the Caps would score. It was incredible. I’ve been hooked ever since.

Back then, I didn’t know about playoffs and championships. The Caps played a game, they won or lost, you were happy or sad, and you moved on. When the Redskins won the Super Bowl, I knew there was a game being played, but I didn’t know what it meant. I spent most of the game playing with other kids while our parents watched. I didn’t know that was the football team I would grow up cheering for and I certainly didn’t know that would be the only experience I would have with a championship team.

Until now, that is.

Since that last Super Bowl, Washington fans have had to endure bad seasons, coaching changes, management changes, and heartbreak with the Caps, Redskins, Nationals and Wizards.

Through it all, you always heard the phrase “Same old Caps,” but it didn’t feel that way to me. Each year was different. Each year carried a new team with new hopes and potential. When each season seemed to end prematurely, it wasn’t just the same old Caps, it was a new heartbreak each and every time.

Have you ever tried to explain your fandom and emotions to someone who doesn’t like sports? It has to be one of the most infuriating feelings in the world.

“Why are you so upset? It’s just a game.”

“It doesn’t really matter.”

“There’s always next year.”

No, stop. You don’t get it.

It’s more than just a game. That’s why we see pictures of troops overseas with gear of their favorite sports team and watching games together. That’s why we see incredible stories of people like Amanda Wilson who continues to cheer on the Caps while getting treated for cancer.

For me, when I got married in 2013 and my wife wanted a June wedding, I made sure it was in the last weekend of June just in case the Caps made it to the Final. When my wife and I found out we were having a baby, she told me by laying out a Caps onesie for me to find. I made sure he had a jersey when he was born. I have a picture of him draped in it sitting on my desk at work.

It's more than just a game. And yes, sports can cause lots of heartache, but we accept those bad times because we knew that at some point, it would all be worth it.

On Thursday, it all became worth it.

All the years of heartbreak, forgotten. The struggles against the Pittsburgh Penguins? Forgotten. Jaroslav Halak? Forgotten.

None of that matters now because finally, finally the Capitals have brought a championship back to Washington.

This is a championship for all of Washington, but it is particularly special for Capitals fans. The Caps had to earn their place in Washington where the Redskins and Wizards are institutions. There were a lot of lean years for the Caps, years that made you wonder if this day would ever come.

But with Alex Ovechkin came interest, acceptance, validation and now a championship.

As someone who has been a diehard sports fan for all my life, to hear that this is not a real sports city, a "minor league" sports town as some have referred to it, I bristle.

You know what's not minor league? The devastation we all felt through the years after all the postseason heartbreak. You know what's not minor league? The absolute joy we all felt when Ovechkin finally hoisted the Cup.

You can't look at the streets of the city of Washington, filled with red, and say this is not a sports town. You can't look at Capital One Arena packed to the gills even when the Caps were on the road and say this is not a sports town.

My son has never known a Capitals team that has lost to the Penguins. He has never known a Stanley Cup champion other than the Caps. And that makes me smile. There's nothing minor league about that.

No, I personally didn't win anything. I wasn't on the ice, I didn't play.

But you know what? That jersey the Caps were wearing? It says "Washington" on it. This win was for all of us.

Washington is a city of champions once again. Enjoy it fans because you never know how long it will take to bring another championship home.

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Prospect Joe Snively was cheering outside Capital One Arena when the Capitals won the Stanley Cup

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USAT Sports Images

Prospect Joe Snively was cheering outside Capital One Arena when the Capitals won the Stanley Cup

There were many incredible aspects to the Capitals’ 2018 Stanley Cup run, but one of the best was how fans took over the streets in the Stanley Cup Final. Little did we know that a future Cap was among the faithful outside of Capital One Arena.

Forward prospect and Herndon, Va. native Joe Snively was signed as a college free agent in March 2019. He is an alum of the Little Capitals local youth hockey program and, not surprisingly given his background, he grew up as a Caps fan.

For all Washington fans, June 7, 2018, is a day that will never be forgotten as it was the day the team won its first Stanley Cup. We all have our own story of where we were that day and how we watched. Snively is no different.

“I was downtown DC outside the arena watching on the big screen,” he told Mike Vogel in an interview at the team’s development camp.

“It was a great feeling,” Snively continued. “At that time I didn’t know I’d have the opportunity to sign with the Capitals and it was an amazing feeling. I’ve been a Caps fan ever since I started watching hockey and it was great to see them after all those years in the playoffs to win the Cup. It was amazing.”

The Alex Ovechkin era is important to Washington hockey not just because he brought the city a Cup, but because of the increased interest at the youth level. Interest early on should increase the sport and the team’s popularity. That, in turn, should lead to more youth participation which should lead to a more competitive youth program and homegrown talent entering professional hockey. The increased interest from that should further boost hockey in the region thus repeating the cycle.

Snively is just the first example.

It kind of makes you wonder how many other future Caps were in that crowd watching the team win the Cup.

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20 Burning Capitals Questions: Can the power play get back to an elite level?

20 Burning Capitals Questions: Can the power play get back to an elite level?

The long, endless summer is only halfway done. The Capitals last played a game on April 24 and will not play another one until Oct. 2. 

But with free agency and the NHL Draft behind them now, the 2019-2020 roster is almost set and it won’t be long until players begin trickling back onto the ice in Arlington for informal workouts.  

With that in mind, and given the roasting temperatures outside, for the next three weeks NBC Sports Washington will look at 20 burning questions facing the Capitals as they look to rebound from an early exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs, keep alive their Metropolitan Division title streak and get back to their championship form of 2018.   

The list will look at potential individual milestones, roster questions, prospects who might help and star players with uncertain futures. Today we look at a power play that dipped out of the top 10 last season. Can a unit that has been so consistent for so long get back to that top level? 

This comes back to tactics more than personnel. The same players are back who have been part of this unit for years. Alex Ovechkin is the ultimate weapon in the left face-off circle, John Carlson mans the point, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov do their thing on the half wall and below the net and T.J. Oshie is the trigger man in the slot. 

Those five players all had 227 minutes of power-play time last year or more. Ovechkin had 17 goals which is about standard for the best ever. Kuznetsov came next with eight goals and 13 assists. Backstrom had four goals, but 17 assists. Carlson had two goals and 27 assists. 

Oshie missed 13 games so his numbers are a little down, but in the games he did play he still hit six goals and eight assists. Tom Wilson was Oshie’s primary replacement in that bumper position and he had three goals. 

Not too bad for Blaine Forsythe’s group. He’s the assistant coach who has run the power play the past five years. You can’t argue with the track record. Unfortunately, the expectations for Washington’s power play are massive given that talent level and it’s fair to say it fell short at 12thoverall in the NHL at 20.8 percent.

Again, 49-for-236 isn’t bad. It’s just the talent level says it should be better. The Capitals were seventh in 2017-18 (22.5 percent), fourth in 2016-17 (23.1 percent), fifth in 2015-16 (21.9 percent), first in 2014-15 (25.3 percent), tied for first in 2013-14 (23.4 percent) and first again in 2012-13 (26.8 percent). The last time Washington finished outside the top 10 on the power play was in 2011-12 when it cratered to 18th (16.7 percent). 

There are a few issues that could be tweaked. The Capitals managed just 236 power-play chances. That tied for 16thin the league. To even break into the top 10 in that category they’d need 16 more penalties drawn. 

Only three times after Oct. 22 did they score two power-play goals in the same game and never more than that. How does that even happen? They had two or more power-play goals four times in the first eight games alone, including four on opening night. After that? It was one and done, 

Kuznetsov is one of the best in the game at getting the puck into the offensive zone. Fans loathe it, but the drop pass – or “the slingshot” – has become an effective way, when used properly, to get the puck into the offensive zone on the power play. It just didn’t seem to work all that well for Washington last year. 

One wonders if Forsythe will make some tweaks there. Kuznetsov was often the player on the receiving end of the drop passes, which can keep the penalty kill off balance, but can also waste precious seconds when it doesn’t work. Then you have to regroup and try again. 

It’s not going away, though – even for those who want to slingshot the drop pass to the moon. It’s used all over the league. Some teams like to use two players as options when coming up ice using the slingshot. That’s easier to defend in some ways, but it also gives your team a certain level of unpredictability. 

Maybe teams have just become better at defending the Capitals on the PK simply because they have had the same personnel and coaching for years now. Opposing coaching staffs have hours of video on this group to break down and analyze. 

But there’s no reason to change too much. That Ovechkin one-timer is the ultimate weapon and you don’t want to stifle the creativity of players like Backstrom or Kuznetsov.

Maybe quicker unit changes would help keep players fresh. Ovechkin is almost always going to be out there for the full two minutes and it would be silly to take that shot off the ice. But developing a more reliable second group might help, too. 

Last year’s “second” unit by ice time was Lars Eller, Jakub Vrana, Wilson, Brett Connolly and Dmitry Orlov/Matt Niskanen. Connolly is gone via free agency. Niskanen is gone via trade. One wonders why Andre Burakovsky was hardly used (18:25), but he’s gone, too, in a trade. 

Will be interesting to see if Forsythe can come up with a more reliable second group centered around Ovechkin, Eller and Vrana, who deserves more power-play time even if he’s buried on this roster, and Wilson as the big body in the middle. Richard Panik was fifth on the Arizona Coyotes in power-play minutes last season (146:16) so maybe he has a role there. 

The very best Washington power plays in recent years had secondary players like Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams around before the salary cap cleaved that depth. The Capitals were still a very good power play in 2018-19, but they could use more of that. These are minor changes that could get them back toward the very top of the league and helps take pressure off its 5-on-5 play. 

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