Woo! (Photo credit: Alex Brandon)
For the last four seasons, the Capitals had been on a steady decline. During their Bruce Boudreau era runs for Presidents’ Trophy, they were D.C.’s team. For fans since the 70’s and young transplants in suits, Rocking the Red was all the rage.
In 2011, the team started going downhill. Boudreau was fired, with three coaches taking his place since then. Meanwhile, the Nationals got good. The Caps were no longer fashionable. The hockey wasn’t the same either. Instead of exciting run-and-gun matches, the Caps played overly defensive games and then, under Adam Oates, just plain bad ones, missing the playoffs for the first time in seven years. Despite claiming a sellout every night, Verizon Center was littered with empty purple seats.
But with Washington’s comeback victory in game two, the spark was lit. On Thursday, the Phone Booth was red, proud, and loud. The Caps dominated, beating the Islanders 5-1 and taking a 3-2 series lead.
“We love this,” Karl Alzner, who scored Thursday, told me. “The fact that we see everybody getting excited for it and feeling good about our team and about our chance at winning some games, that’s what’s exciting for us.”
That excitement comes from what Barry Trotz engineered in his first season in Washington. In less than a year, the Capitals went from a lottery team to the eighth-best record in the league. The crowds at Verizon Center started coming back. As this series has continued, that enthusiasm has grown.
When Tom Wilson hit Lubomir Visnovsky in game four, leading to frothy comments from Islanders players, the stage only got bigger. And on Thursday, the Caps, and Verizon Center, put on a performance worthy of the glory days, with ear splitting, spontaneous chants and a dude in a tiger suit.
“For us it’s obviously our dream to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals and win the Cup, but we want to do it for the city too,” Alzner said. “We wanna be one of the first teams in a long time to win something here.”
After the Caps got down early on a Josh Bailey goal from the circle, Evgeny Kuznetsov whacked a puck past Caps-killer Jaroslav Halak, sliding on the ground in celebration and igniting the crowd. The noise in the arena reached 113 decibels at one point in the game.
“When I score I hear loud in the stadium, I feel like crazy and I want to say thanks for all who come in the game,” Kuznetsov told reporters. “More loud than the Islanders game.”
Then Karl Alzner slapped home a puck in front to give the Capitals a 2-1 lead. Brooks Laich added another in the a third. And then, capping off a brilliant postseason coming out party, Kuznetsov skated in on Halak, deked to his backhand, and went five-hole to bring the place down. Jason Chimera added the sprinkles on Washington’s delicious, delicious soft serve 5-1 victory with a floating wrister. On Saturday, the Capitals have a chance to advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals and play the final game at Nassau Coliseum.
“I think we know the stakes are very high,” Trotz said. “We did what we wanted to do tonight.
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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