WASHINGTON — It has been attitude over adversity for the Washington Capitals in their improbable run to their first Stanley Cup Final in twenty years.
From losing the first two games at home to Columbus to start the postseason, to needing a seventh game in the Eastern Conference Final, the Capitals did things the hard way.
When doubt creeps in, that’s when this Capitals team becomes its most determined. Three straight losses to the Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final after opening the series with two wins strangely enough led to more confidence instead of a collapse.
The Capitals eliminated the Lighting with their two best performances of the playoffs, a 3-0 win in game six, and then punctuated by the 4-0 win in Wednesday night’s game seven. The Capitals backstopped by their goaltender Braden Holtby shutout the Lightning the final 169:27 of the series.
This journey started for the Capitals last season after their loss to the Penguins in game seven of the Eastern Conference semifinal. The loss continued the narrative that the Capitals could compete, but not contend.
There had been playoff failures in the past, but this one seemed to hurt more. The pain lingered. Head coach Barry Trotz gave his team space at the start of this season’s training camp. It was a chance to complete the mourning process from the disappointment of the end of the 2017 campaign and to get a fresh start.
Alex Ovechkin’s arrival changed this town. Washington might not have become hockey’s capital, but hockey became a part of the capital city. Still, there was pain with the promise. Three President’s Cup trophies, for best record in the regular season, were achieved, but with Ovechkin, the team had never advanced past the second round of the playoffs.
“There were a lot of people doubting that he still had what it took,” said Trotz when asked about Ovechkin. “A lot of things were said at the end of last year in the press, social media, and they are hurtful. I think he took personally and he said I am going to show you I am still a great player and he did.”
Ovechkin showed he was still a great player with style and substance. He could provide the spectacular goal or the selfless hit. In short Ovechkin set the tone for a team that truly became a team and above all seemed to enjoy playing with and for each other.
“They have been all in all year,” Trotz said. “We kept growing on and off the ice and that to me is a sign of a team that is maturing, a team that believes in each other, and a team that likes each other’s company. That’s probably the biggest bond. They just don’t want to get separated.”
On paper the Washington Capitals of 2018 are not as talented as teams of the past, nor as deep, but on and off the ice they are more complete.