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Reflections on a championship: No more waiting till next year

Washington Capitals pose with the Stanley Cup after the Capitals defeated the Golden Knights 4-3 in Game 5 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals Thursday, June 7, 2018, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

WASHINGTON — This is for all the people who said the Washington Capitals would never win, certainly not in their lifetime.

It’s for all the people who said that Alex Ovechkin doesn’t know how to win, that he only cares about scoring.

It’s for all the people who called the Capitals “choking dogs” and Washington, D.C., a “minor-league sports town.”

It’s for all the people who wanted to blow it up and start all over by trading Ovechkin and Nicklas Bäckström, and not re-signing T.J. Oshie.

It’s for all the people who wanted Barry Trotz fired as coach.

It’s for all the people who say it’s about time.

This is for all those people who forget that it took Steve Yzerman 14 years to win a championship and Ray Bourque having to leave Boston to claim his first Stanley Cup after 20 seasons.

And, this is for all those people who say, “Well, Vegas is just an expansion team.”

It would be nice if all those people, those doubters, would acknowledge perseverance, overcoming adversity, extinguishing demons and finally breaking through.

Sometimes, it takes a little longer to reach your goal. It just makes it that much sweeter.

Ovechkin has shouldered the blame for the Capitals playoff shortcomings. That’s what happens when you’re the captain and the face of the franchise. But, he has 61 goals in 121 career playoff games. That places him fourth among all active players. Sidney Crosby is second. He has five more goals than Ovi but has played in 39 more games.

To say Ovechkin has not delivered in the postseason is making a lazy argument. This year, he was the league’s leading scorer with a franchise-record 15 goals in the playoffs and was second overall in points.

Over the past decade, the Capitals have the best winning percentage in the NHL. The “Great Eight” has been a big reason for that, missing only a handful of games during that stretch.

Ovechkin has led the league in goals five of the last 10 years, reaching 50 four times and scoring 49 this season.

During this Stanley Cup run, he led the way by scoring, passing, hitting and blocking shots. The rest of the team followed — and contributed — which is what you need to win a championship.

The big players came up big, but others, such as Lars Eller, Devante Smith-Pelly, Tom Wilson, Brett Connolly and Michal Kempný, made huge contributions.

The Capitals coaching staff were also MVPs. Their game plan and adjustments helped the Caps get better as each series progressed.

After losing the first two games against Columbus, the Capitals won the next four. Then, after dropping the opener against Pittsburgh, the Caps took four of five. Against Tampa Bay, the Capitals finished with two shutouts to clinch the series, then won the last four vs. Vegas to claim their first Stanley Cup.

The Golden Knights were not your ordinary expansion team. They won 51 games. In comparison, the Capitals managed just eight wins their inaugural season in 1974.

So, it was almost poetic that the worst-ever expansion team beat the most successful.

Yes, it took 44 years.

But the drought is over.

Since 2002, Washington becomes the 11th team to end a lengthy championship drought, joining the L.A. Angels, Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, San Francisco Giants, Chicago Blackhawks, Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Bruins, Kansas City Royals and Philadelphia Eagles.

The hockey gods were finally on Washington’s side. Let’s hope they stick around a while.


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