WASHINGTON — It’s not easy building America’s hockey capital.
For several seasons now, Washington, D.C. has rocked the red with the Capitals, but it is a town that bleeds burgundy and gold.
It was unfortunate timing then that Alex Ovechkin became the 43rd player in NHL history to score 500 goals on the same day the Redskins hosted their first NFL playoff game in three years.
While the Redskins season was coming to a close in a loss to the Packers at FedEx Field, Ovechkin and the Capitals were continuing their habit of winning games that has made them the top team in the NHL. Ovechkin scored goals 500 and 501 of his career in a 7-1 win over the Ottawa Senators.
Ovechkin’s significant accomplishment might have been overshadowed by the Redskins playoff game, but it did not happen in obscurity. A crowd of 18,506, or 100.6%, of building capacity, witnessed Ovechkin’s big night and continued a home sellout streak that dates back to March of 2009.
Hockey as a hot ticket in D.C. has not always been the case. In 1998, when the Capitals made their only appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals, it was a struggle to fill the building. The team was aided on significantly by the attendance of Detroit Red Wings fans. The Red Wings swept the Capitals in four games.
The problem with the run to the 1998 Stanley Cup Finals was that it all happened too fast. The Capitals had many disappointing playoff runs before and interest in the team had slipped from the 1980s when it used to fill the Capital Centre in Landover. The ’98 team overachieved and the majority of D.C. sports fans overlooked the Capitals.
There are no excuses now. The Capitals and Ovechkin need to be fully appreciated. To be sure, Ovehckin has dealt with bitter disappointment in the postseason, but this season has a different feel. There is a certain swagger and attitude backed by grit and determination about the Capitals. Under the steady guidance of head coach Barry Trotz, they have truly become an elite team in the NHL.
There has been concern that Ovechkin and the Capitals window of opportunity to win the Stanley Cup is closing. It is legitimate worry, but Ovechkin has been defying convention and seems to be getting better with age.
In 2008, when Ovehckin signed a 13-year contract with the Capitals, I made it clear then that a Stanley Cup would follow. Ovechkin is a once in a generation player in the same class with Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemeiux. Simply put, Ovechkin is too good and too much of a team player not to win the ultimate team award.
And it is not too late to heal some burgundy and gold wounds by soaking in Ovechkin and the Capitals red glare.
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