Capitals

Leyland: Valverde will be ready for World Series

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Leyland: Valverde will be ready for World Series

DETROIT (AP) Jose Valverde threw a few pitches during Detroit's workout, then returned to the dugout as upbeat as usual.

Valverde's role for the World Series still isn't clear, but the right-hander doesn't seem to mind.

``I don't care. All I want is to be a champion,'' he said. ``If I had to start, I'd do it.''

Valverde has been Detroit's closer for three years and didn't blow a save through all of 2011, but this postseason has been ugly. He lost Game 4 of the division series against Oakland and gave up four runs in the AL championship series opener against the New York Yankees. The Tigers went on to win that game and sweep the series, but Valverde hasn't been used since.

The World Series begins Wednesday at either St. Louis or San Francisco. Valverde sounds confident he's made the necessary mechanical adjustments, and so does manager Jim Leyland.

``I think everybody's making too big of a deal of the Valverde situation. Valverde's going to be ready. There's nothing wrong with Valverde. He's going to be fine,'' Leyland said. ``I got a kick out of it. Nobody wanted me to pitch him, but everybody asks me every day if he's going to be the closer. I don't know what they expect, but I'm going to just see what happens.''

Leyland went with other options after Valverde's meltdown against the Yankees. Left-hander Phil Coke got the save in Games 2 and 3.

The more flexible approach to the late innings allowed Leyland to use Coke in crucial spots against a New York lineup that has plenty of left-handed power. Against the Cardinals or Giants, Valverde might be back in his old role. Aside from Coke, Detroit's top relief options include right-handers Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel and Al Alburquerque. Benoit has had difficulty keeping the ball in the park this season.

``Sometimes the biggest out is in the seventh inning or eighth inning, not always in the ninth inning,'' Leyland said during the series against New York. ``That's why when you start going by committee, that's what `committee' means. You say, `This is the most important out I have to get. I will use my bullet now and take my chances later.'''

Still, Leyland sounds ready for Valverde to contribute again.

``To me, you've got to pinch hit in the National League cities, you're going to have to use your pitchers, so if you get behind, that's just the way it is,'' Leyland said. ``I think he'll be a big part of this World Series.''

Coke, meanwhile, has been in the spotlight more than usual, and he's certainly enjoying the ride.

``I don't have any idea what's going on. I just know I'm having a good time,'' Coke said recently. ``And we have a common goal that we're trying to achieve, and the last thing I want to be known for is the one that didn't do his job.''

Coke's performance probably earned him a bit more leeway with Leyland. The manager didn't seem to mind the fact that Coke accidently nicked him on the head with a bottle during the postgame celebration after the finale against the Yankees.

``That was just Phil Coke pouring champagne. I got real cold. I usually don't go out in those celebrations. But they got me, and I was freezing, so I jumped up and he was - as Phil Coke will do - he kept dousing the thing,'' Leyland said. ``Well, as he poured the bottle down, I jumped up. Well, he hit my bald spot in the back, split my head open, but fortunately it was just a big scab. It didn't slice it open. I didn't need stitches or anything. After a couple more vodkas and cranberries, I didn't feel anything.''

It's been a trying year at times for Leyland, who admitted his team underachieved for much of the season. But now Detroit is ready for a chance to shine on the game's biggest stage.

``I can't tell you how many free meals I've had in the past 24 hours. I'm almost embarrassed, but every time I go to pay a check they said somebody picked it up,'' Leyland said. ``They've been great, really neat, in the grocery store and stuff everybody's pumped up obviously.''

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What winning the Stanley Cup would actually mean, a fan's perspective

What winning the Stanley Cup would actually mean, a fan's perspective

Just four more wins. It hardly seems possible.

For only the second time ever and for the first time in 20 years, the Capitals will be playing in the Stanley Cup Final. And they could actually win it.

They’re not there yet. The Vegas Golden Knights have cruised through the playoffs thus far and continue to shock the hockey community with their postseason run. Washington’s players need to think about how to beat Vegas, not what happens after.

But while the players cannot and should not look ahead, for fans, it’s hard not to. It’s hard not to dream about that moment when Gary Bettman hands the Stanley Cup over to Alex Ovechkin.

Winning the conference is always a huge achievement that should be celebrated, but this year is different than 1998’s run. Back in 1998, the Caps played against a Detroit Red Wings team that is one of the greatest teams in NHL history. They were the defending champions after sweeping the Philadelphia Flyers the year before. Washington suffered the same fate as the Flyers, losing in just four games.

This year is a battle between two more evenly matched teams. Picking the Caps to win this series is not outlandish or crazy at all. This year, they could actually do it.

So before the puck drops for Game 1 and all dreams are pushed aside for the realities of what may happen, allow a fan a chance to think about what seeing the Washington Capitals actually hoist the Stanley Cup would actually mean.

Breaking news: Washington is not Canada and the Capitals are not an original six team. Hockey is not ingrained in the culture of D.C. the way it is in Canadian cities or in places like Boston and Detroit. Unlike in Vegas where the success of the team in its inaugural season has caught the city by storm, the Capitals won only eight games in their first year. Eight wins doesn’t exactly help a team grow roots in the community.

If you’ve been a fan of the Capitals long enough, chances are you’ve seen some pretty tough times. There have been plenty of playoff disappointments in this team’s history even before the current era. There was also the rebuild that began before the lockout that saw a very bad team play in front of a half empty stadium for several years. And they would not have even gotten to that point without the “Save the Caps” campaign in 1982.

But through it all, that small group of hardcore fans kept coming back. Some may have wavered from time to time, but they came back because being a hockey fan is different than other sports.

It’s hard to be a sports fan in any city with an NFL team and not follow football. Football may not even be your sport, but there is almost on obligation to following it because coverage and interest in football is so prevalent. It’s hard to avoid.

You have to seek out hockey

Hockey at times has been viewed as more of a niche sport than mainstream. Before the age of Alex Ovechkin, if you were from Washington and you were following the Caps, it was because you loved both.

So why did those Caps fans keep coming back after so much heartbreak? Because despite all of the disappointing seasons we always walked away telling ourselves, this will just make it that much sweeter when they do win.

One day, it will all be worth it.

That’s why we watch sports, isn’t it? We watch with the knowledge that sometimes, our hearts will be broken but it’s OK because the good will always outweigh the bad. And the worse the bad times are, the better the good times will feel afterward.

We kept telling ourselves that for a long time, but admittedly some years were tougher to get past than others. It’s hard to keep believing when you’ve seen your rival beat you nine times out of 10 in the playoffs heading into this year’s postseason. It’s hard when a team cannot seem to overcome its playoff history despite having one of the best players of all-time on its roster.

When Ovechkin was drafted, the question we all asked ourselves was not whether he would bring a Cup to Washington, but how many? He brought new fans with him, he brought excitement with him, he brought validation with him…at least initially.

But with every passing year, doubt began to creep into our minds. The upset loss to Montreal in 2010 stung, but Ovechkin was still 24. There was still hope that one day, he would still win the Cup.

Now at 32 years old, many did not know what to expect from the Great 8 this year. When would decline start to show in his game?

Ovechkin is part of why we want the Cup so badly. We want to see the best player in this franchise’s history honored. We want to see the player who transformed hockey in Washington from niche sport to mainstream take his proper place in the sport’s history. No one wants to hear him described as one of the best players to never win a Cup because he should be remembered as one of the best players, period.

But that’s not all of it.

This is about all those times we told ourselves this would all be worth it someday. This is about how we used to cope with the sting of another postseason heartbreak by thinking about what it would feel like when it was finally our year. This is about how we stuck with the team when the stadium was half empty. This is about the blue jersey in our closet with the eagle on the front and the black one hanging next to it with the capitol building on the front. This is about all the 5, 12, 32 and 37 jerseys. This is about replacing Esa Tikkanen as our lasting Stanley Cup memory.

When the Washington Redskins have a rough year, those fans who can remember them think about those three Super Bowl wins. When the Washington Wizards fall short, those fans who can remember it think about the championship in 1978. Even if you’re too young to remember the Super Bowls or NBA championship, those banners still give your team a sense of validation. They have their little piece of history to be proud of.

That’s what this would mean. A Stanley Cup would be not just for the players, it would be for the fans who stuck it out through thick and thin, those fans who despite everything still supported their team. This win would be about the Capitals forever earning their spot in the heart of Washington sports alongside the Redskins and Wizards.

This would be about never having to tell ourselves again that someday all the love we pour into this team will pay off.

A Stanley Cup would mean finally getting to experience a championship and realizing, yeah, it was all worth it.

Let’s go Caps!

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Capital One Bank just made a Caps-themed update to its logo and we're here for it

Capital One Bank just made a Caps-themed update to its logo and we're here for it

Capital One is repping the district in a big way: by changing their logo to incorporate the Capitals' font and name. 

The new Capital One logo appears on the bank's websites and social media ahead of the Caps' Stanley Cup Final games, which begin on Memorial Day Monday in Vegas.

The McLean, Virginia, based bank recently purchased the naming rights to the Capitals' home arena, formerly known as "Verizon Center." And in the first year of its renaming, the Capitals have advanced to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 20 years. Coincidence? 

We've seen a small, Northern Virginia town change its name to "Capitalsville," and now Capital One Bank is all-in for the Caps.

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