Just over one week ago, another Capitals’ postseason run ended too soon. The Pittsburgh Penguins’ elimination of the Caps marked the second straight year that Washington finished with the league’s best regular-season record but failed to advance beyond the second round. Yet again, Caps fans find themselves asking what went wrong and how a season that began with so much promise ended with so much heartbreak.
Shortly before the start of the playoffs, WJLA’s Scott Abraham interviewed Barry Trotz and asked the question that resurfaces every spring: How will the team deal with the narrative of past playoff failures?
“We have a short history. The fans have a long history,” Trotz said. “You have to understand, we can’t do anything about the past. It’s actually very irritating getting asked that question…it doesn’t apply to this group.”
He has a point. Every season marks another opportunity for teams to win the championship. It behooves a team not to dwell on the disappointments of previous years but instead to focus on the challenges ahead.
On the other hand, it isn’t easy for Caps fans to disregard their team’s bleak history in the postseason. The numbers alone are staggering: after Wednesday night, the Capitals hold a 4-11 record all-time in Game Sevens (3-8 on home ice), have five times blown a 3-1 series lead, and are 16-27 all-time in playoff series. One would be hard-pressed to find too many fanbases in hockey, if not any sport, that have suffered as much as Caps fans.
In response to Trotz’s interview, Mike Milbury, for once, had a good point.
“The questions are still there and until they get to a Conference Final they’ll continue to be there. And whether he’s irritated or not they will still be asked,” Milbury said. “[Trotz] is 4-9 (now 5-10) in playoff rounds. That’s not a particularly impressive record. That doesn’t mean I don’t think he is a good coach. I think he is. You have to erase those kinds of memories and those kinds of past performances if you want to get past it.”
Caps fans have not seen their team get past the second round of the playoffs since 1998. At this point, they’re allowed to ask what’s going on, especially because of the context we’ve been sold by the team.
In 2010, owner Ted Leonsis said this to 106.7 The Fan.
“Alex and the Caps are gonna win Stanley Cups,” Leonsis said via the DC Sports Bog. “We’re either gonna win it this year or next year or the year after.”
“I believe that if the Caps can qualify for the playoffs, 10 or 15 years in a row, and we have a really good team that’s young and has upside, that with that continuity and that knocking on the door enough, that we’ll get our fair share of Stanley Cups,” Leonsis later told ESPN 980 in the fall. “It’s just a matter of time, I believe, until we win the Cup.”
General manager Brian MacLellan has also told the press that the last two seasons were the franchise’s best shot to win a Stanley Cup.
“I view it as a two-year window,” MacLellan said according to NHL.com’s Katie Brown in February of last year. “We’re going for it this year, we’re going for it next year, and then after that we’re evaluating where we’re at.”
But despite two stellar regular seasons, nothing has changed when it mattered most. That window is now closed.
Regardless of if Alex Ovechkin stays or not, Wednesday night marked an end of an era for this iteration of the team. GM Brian MacLellan, who has not met with the media since the team’s playoff run ended, has some big decisions to make. Eleven players are free agents, and the team will lose someone in the expansion draft.
But at what point is the problem bigger than just the players who play the game?
All I know, is that even though the Cup might still be out of reach for years to come, the fans will still be here. They will be haunted by the ghosts of playoffs past, yet loyal to the team and hopeful for better times until the day they die. They’ll keep cheering and supporting the Washington Capitals, giving everything to a team that has not yet given everything back.
And until the Caps win the Stanley Cup, Caps fans will continue to have a chip on their shoulder. And maybe be even more “irritating” the next year.
Headline photo: Alex Brandon
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
All original content on russianmachineneverbreaks.com is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)– unless otherwise stated or superseded by another license. You are free to share, copy, and remix this content so long as it is attributed, done for noncommercial purposes, and done so under a license similar to this one.