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The Washington Capitals Are In The Stanley Cup Finals. I Have Some Thoughts About It.

If you like sports, like me, then you probably know that the Washington Capitals defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning by a score of 4-0 on Wednesday night to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1998. If you are a Caps fan, like me, then it was one of the highlights of your sports-watching life. And if you know how to read, like me, then you should check out my thoughts on this team, the series, and the upcoming battle against Vegas:

caps trophy

  • I would kick this off with something to the tune of, “I can’t believe it,” but I actually can. Everything we’ve come to expect about Capitals playoff hockey went out the window with Evgeny Kuznetsov’s series-winning goal against the Penguins. Now THAT was something I couldn’t believe. But I genuinely didn’t even consider the idea that this team would choke on Wednesday night, especially after Game 6 when the Caps stuffed every Lightning player in their lockers, pulled them out just to steal their lunch money, then threw them each in the dumpster. I was telling everyone willing to listen that for the first time seemingly ever since my Capitals fandom launched years ago, I was more excited than nervous for a crucial playoff game. I felt good about pulling out a win. Now, did I expect the Caps to win 4-0? No…but I wasn’t surprised by it.
  • After the Caps collapsed yet again in the second round as the top seed last year, everyone suggested that maybe they would be better off entering the playoffs as a lower seed. Not only would it lower the pressure, but in all likelihood it would also help them avoid Pittsburgh. Well, the Caps still had to face the Penguins in the second round (albeit a Penguins team with much less depth and motivation), but turns out there is actually something real to the pressure aspect. In years past the Caps would skate tentatively and deliver hits with no regard for defensive assignments or penalties, just because their nervous brains told them that’s how to “set the tone.” But this year the Caps are FLYING and laying the wood in key moments. And just look at the differences in the crowds in the biggest games. Last year’s Game 7 against Pittsburgh notoriously had a funeral vibe, and I didn’t and still don’t blame those fans in attendance for a second. We all knew the team would come out flat, and they somehow managed to not even meet our lowly expectations. They didn’t come remotely close to scoring at any point in the game. But this year the shutout went the other way around in Game 6, in arguably the best postseason performance I’ve ever seen from the Caps. And by all accounts, it was the loudest the arena has ever been. The players and the fans are all feeling the same energy.
  • With all of that being said, this team doesn’t deserve the underdog label for a second. Just because the Caps didn’t win the Presidents Cup for the third straight year doesn’t mean this team isn’t REALLY good. I mean, they finished with 105 points, won the Metropolitan Division, and landed in a close second in scoring across the league. Yes, a good chunk of the roster throughout the season consisted of rookies, castoffs, and AHL’ers. But this team has essentially the same exact core as the teams who put up two of the best regular seasons in NHL history.
  • There are a few reasons that the Caps were slept on coming into these playoffs, but none bigger than the rough regular season of Braden Holtby. A two-time All Star and just two years removed from winning the Vezina Trophy, Holtby is safely still one of the best goalies in the league, but he was so bad down the stretch that he temporarily lost the main job to Philipp Grubauer. Now, Grubauer is good and was insanely hot in the final weeks of the season, but that decision in hindsight was truly laughable (even if it fired up Holtby, which was absolutely not the logic behind it regardless of what people say). Holtby didn’t have to do much in Game 6, but pretty much the entire first period of Game 7 took place inside the Caps’ zone, and Holtby turned the Lightning away with relative ease. After posting back-to-back shutouts in the two biggest games of the season, it’s safe to say The Beast is back.
  • Still, let’s not pretend that Holtby has been the igniter behind this Capitals run. It’s been Alexander Mikhailovich Ovechkin. Ovi has always been a good-to-great postseason player despite the adverse reputation that’s recycled by Twitter Eggs every year, but this year he’s taken it to a level that I didn’t even know existed. He’s second in both goals and points this postseason (and he’s creating more dangerous scoring chances than anyone else…by a mile.) But it’s his intensity and sheer will to win that I’m talking about. You want to talk about setting a tone? He’s either scored or had the primary assist on THREE goals within the first 90 seconds of games in these playoffs. And I can feel the hits he’s been laying from my couch. Allow us to flip the calendar back a year. Ovi had his worst postseason and was noticeably gassed during the Pittsburgh series. Barry Trotz couldn’t even put him on the ice towards the end of third periods, and there was REAL talk on whether the Caps should consider moving on from him. Now? It looks like he’s pulling a Federer with a second prime that no one anticipated. (Yes, he’s buddy-buddy with Vladimir Putin. Why do you ask?) Nobody in that hideous Golden Knights jersey is going to be safe when #8 is on the ice.
  • A lot of people who are way smarter about hockey than me have already written pieces on how incredible Ovechkin has been, so let’s show a little love here to some other members of the squad. First up…Barry Trotz! Ted Leonsis will never admit it, but I think it’s safe to assume Trotz’s future was toast once the Caps fell behind 2-0 to Columbus. The Grubauer decision immediately backfired, the power play went stagnant, and he was getting toyed with on the lines by John freaking Tortorella. Fast-forward one month and he’s four wins away from becoming the greatest coach in franchise history. In addition to effectively firing up the team for the biggest moments, some specifics that I’ve loved: unleashing Jakub Vrana, moving Chandler Stephenson around in the lineup, and benching Andre Burakovksy for a game.
  • Evgeny Kuznetsov leads the league in postseason points and scored the biggest goal of the playoffs, yet I find myself yelling “SHOOT THE DAMN PUCK KUZY” at the TV at least five times a game. It is unbelievable how many good looks he creates for himself.
  • It’s pretty much a lock that the last few years on TJ Oshie’s eight-year deal are gonna be rough on the Caps. But if they actually win it all this year, then the deal is already worth it. Some people might not agree with that assessment, but a deal like that was probably what it took to bring Oshie back. And there is no shot this team makes it this far without him. He’s crushing it on both ends. I think I speak on behalf of all Caps fans when I say we’re comfortable with sucking in 5ish years if we get a ring out of it.
  • Does anyone’s bookie take in-game bets on faceoffs in the defensive zone? If so, please let me know because I have some money to place on Jay Beagle. He is such money. That dude should never pay for a drink in the District in his life.
  • Don’t ever leave us, John Carlson. I know some other team is going to offer you a shit ton more money than the Caps can, but you can’t beat that DC traffic and summer humidity right?!?! (He’s a goner, so let’s just hope we can send him off with a Cup. And throw in that Norris Trophy too.)
  • Two guys who actually played really well in Games 6 and 7…Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen! Contracts considered, Orpik is probably the worst player in the league, and Niskanen has regressed badly this season. It’s a dangerous game to expect those two to keep up that level of play, but honestly it’s just a relief to know that they’re both capable of turning back the clock when they need to most.
  • Some quick thoughts on the Lightning. They could not have reminded me more of the 2015-16 Caps. AKA, it must royally suck being a fan of that team. A laughable amount of talent throughout the roster, an incredible young goalie, household names on the fourth line…and they were still completely overmatched. This series only went seven games because of Tampa’s complete dominance on the power play over the middle games, but on even strength they had the look of a team who all hooked up with each other’s sisters. Just no visible chemistry whatsoever. I know that they’re a veteran team who took hit after hit throughout the series, but I can’t get over how bad their body language was. OH, and all the shit that Ovi took for his “struggles” in the postseason? Steven Stamkos deserves that tenfold. That dude was a total ghost during 5v5 play from Game 1 to 7.
  • I made the impromptu decision to go into Capital One Arena for Periods 2 and 3 for the viewing party with the game on the Jumbotron, and BOY am I happy that I did. Was it weird that I went alone? No way! Did I high-five and hug strangers? Yes way! (Seriously, I could not recommend this experience highly enough for Caps fans for the away games.)
  • I love that Ovechkin touched the Prince of Wales Trophy. LOVE IT. I think it’s beyond lame when fans give athletes crap for celebrating before championships. It’s exactly how I feel about baseball teams champagne showering after each round. You survived past a great team! You did something awesome! Fucking celebrate it!
  • More than half of my brain thought Ovechkin and Backstrom were going to kiss in this moment. Nothing crazy…just a little peck of respect.
  • As a sports town for the last decade, DC has pretty much been the kid who decides to go on a break with his longtime high school girlfriend (Redskins) once he gets to college just to give it a shot with the hot chick who lives down the hall in the dorm (Caps). But after a few weeks, you realize that you like this new girl more. She allows you to be yourself. You have fun without even trying with her. It makes you realize how unhealthy things were with your ex. She wanted you to go to college with her in Ohio. And now that you think about it, she would yell at waiters and say some pretty racist shit in the backseat of Ubers. So yeah, DC is becoming a primarily hockey town.
  • I don’t identify as a DC sports fan (especially since I absolutely despise the football team), so I can’t fully bask in this run like faithful Washingtonians can. Still, as a dedicated Caps fan, I expect personalized congratulations messages from each reader. Thank you.
  • I admittedly don’t watch too much of the NHL regular season outside of the Caps and the Sunday games on NBC, so my knowledge of the Golden Knights doesn’t extend too far past these playoffs and a few articles I’ve read on them. So, I won’t try to provide any sort of breakdown here because it would suck. But what I will say is that I am happy as shit that we drew them. Yes, obviously they are legit considering they made it to the Finals. I know Marc-Andre Fleury is playing the best hockey of his career. But this is still an expansion team. I know the draft rules benefitted them. I know they found diamonds in the rough in William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault. I know their home ice might be the best in the league. I know destiny is on their side. Vegas is still an expansion team.
  • Not much Conn Smythe drama here. It’s Ovechkin vs. Fleury. Let’s hope it goes better for Ovi than this showdown did.
  • PREDICTION: CAPS IN 5. #ALLCAPS

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