With the NHL season on pause due to the coronavirus, we’re digging into the archives for a look back at some great moments in Capitals history.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll present a series of ‘This Date in Capitals History’ features.
We continue with April 5.
April 5, 1981: Dennis Maruk recorded a hat-trick in the final game of the regular-season to secure the first 50-goal campaign in franchise history as the Capitals beat the Detroit Red Wings 7-2 at Capital Centre.
Maruk beat Detroit’s Larry Lozinski twice in the first period and completed the hat-trick with 6:55 remaining in the third period with Bob Kelly and Howard Walker drawing the assists on goal No.50.
Hear the original call of Maruk’s milestone goal as it sounded on WTOP 1500AM with Ron Weber on the play-by-play.
April 5, 1990: Dino Ciccarelli recorded the first postseason hat-trick in franchise history as the Capitals beat the New Jersey Devils 5-4 in overtime in Game 1 of the 1990 Patrick Division Semifinals.
Ciccarelli’s third goal of the game was the OT winner as he beat New Jersey’s Sean Burke at 5:34 of the extra session.
April 5, 1991: Don Beaupre made 36 saves as the Capitals beat the New York Rangers 3-0 in Game 2 of the Patrick Division Semifinals.
Dino Ciccarelli, Kelly Miller and Michal Pivonka all scored as the Capitals evened their series against New York at a game apiece.
April 5, 2008: The Capitals beat the Florida Panthers 3-1 at Verizon Center and clinched the Southeast Division title on the final day of the regular season.
The Capitals needed a furious late-season rally to secure their first playoff berth in the ‘Alex Ovechkin Era,’ ending the regular season on a seven-game winning streak and winning 11 of their last 12 games overall.
Tomas Fleischmann opened the scoring in the win over Florida while Sergei Fedorov and Alexander Semin had a goal and an assist each. Cristobal Huet made 25 saves to end the season on a personal nine-game winning streak. The win secured the first of four consecutive Southeast Division titles with Bruce Boudreau behind the bench.
April 5, 2011: Alex Ovechkin recorded his 300th career goal and Mike Knuble scored the only goal of the shootout as the Capitals beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 (shootout) at the Air Canada Centre.
At the 25 years and 200 days, Ovechkin became the sixth youngest player in NHL history to hit the 300-goal plateau. Only Wayne Gretzky (22 years, 321 days), Mario Lemieux (23, 179), Dale Hawerchuk (24, 308), Mike Bossy (25, 60) and Steve Yzerman (25, 176) were younger.
The Capitals’ win in Toronto also secured their fourth consecutive Southeast Division title. It marked the first time in franchise history the Capitals finished atop their division four consecutive years.
April 5, 2015: Braden Holtby made 35 saves and became the third goalie in franchise history to record 100 career wins as the Capitals beat the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 at Joe Louis Arena.
Holtby joined Olie Kolzig (301) and Don Beaupre (128) as the only Washington goalies in the century club. Mike Green had a goal and an assist in the win.
More Capitals history and behind-the-scenes tales can be found in the book ‘100 Things Capitals Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die‘ available for order via Amazon
Below is a book excerpt highlighting the 2007-08 Capitals clinching the Southeast Division title on the final day of the regular season (April 5, 2008)
The task was simple as the Capitals prepared for the 2007-08 regular-season finale at Verizon Center: Beat the Florida Panthers, and the Capitals would be Southeast Division champions; playoff-bound for the first time in five years. A loss in the final game of the year and the Capitals’ furious late-season rally would be for naught.
Months earlier, the possibility of the Capitals even sniffing the postseason seemed remote with the club sitting in last place with a 6-14-1 record by Thanksgiving. Bruce Boudreau replaced Glen Hanlon as head coach at that time and despite a gradual uptick in their play, the Capitals remained in last place on December 30. By the midpoint of the regular season, the Capitals were in 14th place in the 15-team Eastern Conference.
But buoyed by Boudreau’s up-tempo style, and the acquisitions of veterans Matt Cooke, Sergei Fedorov and Cristobal Huet at the trade deadline, the Capitals found themselves in a playoff hunt down the stretch.
For the first time in their careers, players like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, Alexander Semin and Tomas Fleischmann were playing meaningful games at the NHL level.
“It was a bunch of young professionals that didn’t know any different than to chase after it,” Brooks Laich said in 2016. “We really didn’t know pressure, we really didn’t know defeat. The game was really played at a pure and passionate level. We were the underdog the whole way, so maybe it was good timing, because we were able to fly under the radar. Once we got so far behind by November, people wrote us off and thought our year was over. It was like, ‘Okay, let the media talk about everybody else and let’s just push a little bit each day.’ We started making waves, we started having winning streaks and all of a sudden it started to become real.”
Following a late-March 5-1-0 road trip – during which Ovechkin established a new Capitals single-season record with his 61st goal of the season – the Capitals returned to D.C. for a three-game homestand against the Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers.
The Capitals dispatched Carolina on April 1, and beat Tampa Bay on April 3, extending their win streak to six games. Washington then received some necessary help on the out-of-town scoreboard when the Hurricanes dropped their regular-season finale to Florida on April 4.
“I remember the night before our last game,” Laich said, “Florida beat Carolina and if Carolina had gotten two points, they would have been in the playoffs, and I remember thinking, ‘Oh my God, the thing that we’ve been chasing for all season long is now in our hands. It’s up to us to win a hockey game.’ That’s when it really became real. That’s when our goal was in our hands. It was right in front of us and achievable.”
Before a red-clad sellout crowd at Verizon Center, the Capitals didn’t let the moment pass them by. They beat the Panthers 3-1 for their seventh-consecutive win. Fleischmann, Fedorov and Semin all scored and Huet made 25 saves to secure Washington’s first division title in seven years.
As the seconds ticked down, Joe Beninati had the final call on Comcast Sportsnet:
“If the NHL is having a fairytale end to its regular season, hockey has its Cinderella! [Horn sounds] Southeast Division champions!”
Years later Beninati reflected on the Capitals’ improbable late-season surge, which included an 11-1-0 record down the stretch capped off by the final win of the year against Florida.
“I will never forget the reaction of the bench in the final 15-20 seconds,” Beninati said in 2016. “As Verizon Center was going nuts all around them to cap off this extraordinary run to end the regular season, we were watching grown men behaving like little kids. It was spectacular. I specifically remember all of the reactions, all of the dog piling that was being done on the bench. The guy behind the bench with his coaching staff, ear-to-ear grins jumping up and down. It was a magical moment.”
“We went out and won the hockey game,” said Laich, who finished third on the team that season with 21 goals. “The building was packed, everyone was rocking the red, they had the banner up ‘Southeast Division Champions,’ and at that moment, hockey became cool in D.C. It became the hot ticket in town and I think we won a lot of fans at that time.”
Former general manager George McPhee has similar memories of a young team that played an entertaining style and that was quickly grabbing the attention of a fan base starved for a winner.
“That final stretch was really something,” McPhee said in 2017.
“I think it’s what galvanized our fan base. That’s when everything turned in Washington and the Washington Capitals became a popular team. That stretch of games for those three weeks caught everyone’s attention. Whether the casual sports fan or the avid Caps fan, everyone was dialed in. And when we won that last game, I remember catching myself, because it almost felt like we had won the Stanley Cup. It was such a rush and the place was that loud and excited. And I said, ‘Oh geez, all we’ve done is make the playoffs.’ But it was spectacular, it was quite the feat and I don’t know too many other teams that have done that.”