The Washington Capitals did not look like themselves during the 2020 playoffs. Unceremoniously eliminated by the New York Islanders and former head coach Barry Trotz in five games, the Capitals responded by firing head coach Todd Reirden three days later. On his podcast The Russo Hockey Show, The Athletic’s Michael Russo shared a rumor about the team’s behavior that was became widely circulated.
“Yeah, well, I mean the stories from inside the bubble about the Caps basically turning it into a vacation, having pool parties and things like that, you pretty much knew that they had no interest in being there,” Russo said.
RMNB received immediate and forceful pushback to those stories. One source close to the team said the rumor was “BS” and the team’s problems were all hockey-related. Meanwhile, Jenner Jensen, Nick Jensen’s wife, tweeted in the response to our story, “My husband wanted to win a Stanley Cup. So did all of his teammates.”
Since then, several reports have come forward including from ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski and The Athletic’s Tarik El-Bashir that chip away at the notion that the team partied away their opportunity to win a second Stanley Cup.
ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski and Emily Kaplan wrote that social media may have played a role and twisted perception into reality.
A few photos of Washington Capitals players drinking outdoors fueled speculation that they were “having pool parties and turning it into a vacation” before they were eliminated in the first round, according to one report. But an Eastern Conference player said every team took it easy now and again.
“I think there were some misconceptions because some of the younger guys from teams were advertising it on their Instagrams,” he said. “If any team has two days off in between games, I don’t care who you are, that team is going to get together — especially because, as players, you haven’t been around each other for three months. Are you going to tell a 34-year-old guy that he can’t have some drinks after the game or go lie by the pool?”
Added a Western Conference player: “The farther you went in the playoffs, the more serious it got. During training camp and play-in games, there was more drinking. Things definitely toned down as we went along.”
Tarik El-Bashir reported in his mailbag that the team had one wild night before Game Four of the Islanders’ series, the same game where Evgeny Kuznetsov showed up bald, but they played their best hockey the next day and won.
I asked around about the pool party report and was told the Caps did go to the rooftop pool and restaurant area at Hotel X in the lead up to the playoffs, and they were joined by players from other teams. It was a popular hangout among players when they arrived in Toronto. I also heard the night they shaved their heads and goatees, after going down 3-0 to the Islanders, might’ve been a bit rambunctious but, for the most part, they didn’t do anything other teams weren’t doing.
Around the NHL, other teams that made the most of bubble life were highlighted and praised.
For instance, beloved former Capital Nate Schmidt was the de facto president of a “Fun Committee” he helped create with the Vegas Golden Knights.
“I’m sure other teams haven’t had the same experience.”
While some NHL teams couldn’t handle Bubble Life, the @GoldenKnights formed a players-led “Fun Committee.” How their hijinks have helped with mental health in their Stanley Cup run. https://t.co/YvjDwQVQDN
— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) September 8, 2020
The team held “backyard barbecues”, movie nights, kickball games, and tournaments in poker, Call of Duty, Mario Kart, and ping pong.
Team movie night in the bubble pic.twitter.com/JTt2dumFqs
— Nick Cousins (@Cous27) August 13, 2020
“We’re trying to emulate Vegas as much as possible in the bubble,” Schmidt said.
The Vegas Golden Knights went to the Western Conference Final.
Another Eastern Conference Final team, the New York Islanders, held intense ping pong tournaments.
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) August 8, 2020
After the Capitals won the Stanley Cup in 2018, Nicklas Backstrom said in his speech, “Finally, we played hockey like we can party.” That team credited Mario Kart tournaments as a team-bonding moments that brought players closer together and helped them win. That fun was so meaningful to them that Brett Connolly and TJ Oshie got Mario Kart characters tattooed onto their bodies.
Having fun these days is hard. Doing so while locked in a hotel away from your family while trying to win 16 hockey games is even harder. Now, seeing which teams succeeded in the bubble, one can’t help but wonder if maybe the Capitals didn’t have enough fun in there.
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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