The Washington Capitals were the best team of the 2010s. It’s a story told across hundreds of games with dozens of players. But now, at the end of one decade and the dawn of another, here are eight days that shaped this team and forged their destiny.
It was the stuff of legend. The Penguins came to DC in the midst of a blizzard for a nationally televised game that disappointed no one. Sidney Crosby took over the game early, but Alex Ovechkin got a hat trick and Mike Knuble got a Gordie Howe hat trick. The Caps’ winning streak hit 14 and everything looked beautiful as the tri-state area got buried in a snowstorm that we all called Snowvechkin.
Somewhat less great, the first-seed Washington Capitals lost 2-1 to the eight-seed Montreal Canadiens in game seven of the first round of the playoffs. It was a humiliating defeat as the Caps’ offense — who up to that point seemed inexhaustible — did nothing. Alex Semin notoriously got zero goals on 44 shots. The loss would trigger an identity crisis for the team that stalled them out for four seasons. It also inspired an entry on Urban Dictionary.
The abovementioned identity crisis effectively ended with the 2014 regular season, the only time this decade the Caps did not make the postseason. Adam Oates was unceremoniously given the boot and George McPhee‘s contract ended. The decision to fire Oates was a slam dunk, and McPhee punted on too many opportunities to improve the team at trade deadlines. In their place came Barry Trotz and Brian MacLellan, who turned out just fine, thank you very much.
One day after adding Justin Williams in free agency, the Caps made an even bigger move– swapping Troy Brouwer and parts for TJ Oshie. Oshie’s gone on to score 117 goals and 118 assists for Washington, becoming a mainstay in the top six and power play. A fan favorite, Brouwer’s output since his departure has been half that, and he quickly dropped out of top-six minutes. Adding Oshie was one important factor in the culture overhaul and roster retooling that led to the 2018 Cup win, but he’s been most impactful in driving discourse around name abbreviations.
Tilapia Journalismo Oshie
— RMNB (@russianmachine) October 20, 2019
Tummy Jumble Oshie!
— RMNB (@russianmachine) February 27, 2019
TANTAMOUNT JUSTICE OSHIE
— RMNB (@russianmachine) December 28, 2018
TUSTIN JIMBERLAKE OSHIE SCOAR
— RMNB (@russianmachine) October 10, 2017
TROUNCE JACKETS OSHIE
— RMNB (@russianmachine) April 2, 2017
TRENDY JEANS OSHIE breaks the deadlock of the "We fired Bruce Boudreau bowl". 1-0 Caps.
— RMNB (@russianmachine) February 12, 2017
Talkingheads Journey Oshie
— RMNB (@russianmachine) May 11, 2016
Turpentine Jehoshaphat Oshie
— RMNB (@russianmachine) May 11, 2016
DID THAT GOAL BELONG TO TENNESSEE JENKINS OSHIE
— RMNB (@russianmachine) May 8, 2016
TRANSYLAVANIA JAVELIN OSHIE YOU ARE THE CHOSEN ONE
— RMNB (@russianmachine) April 29, 2016
TREVOR JONATHANFRAKES OSHIE YOU GORGEOUS NEWBORN BABY
— RMNB (@russianmachine) April 21, 2016
Before they won the Cup, the Washington Capitals were a hair away from getting eliminated in the first round. Down 2-0 in the series, the Caps traded leads with the Blue Jackets a bunch of times before the war of attrition settled in. For the third time in three games, the Caps went beyond regulation, trading chances in two tight twenty-minute overtime periods. The Blue Jackets came a fraction of an inch from putting the Caps down 3-0, but for the kind intervention of a goalpost. And then, Lars Eller happened.
Inspired, the Caps clawed their way to eliminate Columbus in six games, sparking a run all the way to Lord Stanley’s Cup. That run and its aftermath makes up the rest of this list.
Braden Holtby‘s 2017-18 was the worst season of his career. He wasn’t even the starter for the playoffs. The eastern conference finals brought to his goal crease the Tampa Bay Lightning, with one of the most productive offenses the league had seen in years. And Holtby shut them out. Twice. In a row. Fifty three saves on fifty three shots. Natural Stat Trick estimates he prevented just under six expected goals. It was legendary, and he was still saving his best, uh, save for later.
Look at this smooth dude right here.
Just three years and change after he dropped this mindbending quote.
"I hope I never reach the top of my game." – Braden Holtby, zen as fuck
— RMNB (@russianmachine) February 4, 2015
They said it would never happen. Don Cherry, Jeremy Roenick, Ron MacLean, even Michal Neuvirth all condemned Alex Ovechkin at one time or another. But then came Game Five in Las Vegas, carving the Caps’ names on the Cup for the next eighty years. Ovechkin earned and won the Conn Smythe for loffs MVP. He took every piece of criticism ever lobbed at him, including from us, bore it on his back, and won the dang thing.
The Capitals were a different kind of champion. They were rowdy, but everyone’s rowdy. What made the Caps different was their openness. The “act like you’ve been there before” line meant nothing to them. Everyone knew this was new to them, and they didn’t even try to hide it. They got raucous in Vegas, they got raucous in Northern Virginia, they got raucous at Nats Park, and then they swam in a goddamn fountain in Georgetown.
— Dan Steinberg (@dcsportsbog) June 10, 2018
They forced the Cup handlers to enforce a new rule: No Cup stands. They swapped RMNB t-shirts with fans on the street. They got tattoos while eating pizza and looking positively haggard.
It wasn’t a championship; it was an exorcism. It was catharsis. It was one million Caps fans releasing decades of angst — and doing it together with the players who freed them.
It was a magical time. It will happen again. Here’s to 2020.
Headline photo: Chris Gordon
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