That was the record for the four pro sports teams in Washington D.C. when a chance to go to a Conference Final was on the line dating back to 1998 entering last night’s Game 6 between the Capitals and Penguins, a 2-1 overtime win for the Caps that made that record 1-13. The Capitals accounted for six of those losses. Alex Ovechkin and the Caps finishing with their faces in the rear ends of Sidney Crosby and the Penguins has been the face of this streak of misery in our nation’s capital.
So when Evgeny Kuznetsov beat Matt Murray on a breakaway that came via a lead pass from Ovechkin in overtime to put Washington over the top, it represented a lot of different things. Barriers broken, demons exorcised, critics silenced, and so much more.
Here’s just a few..
- The Capitals getting past the Penguins at last. Finally is all you can really say. The Penguins had owned this matchup. Nine of the first 10 and last seven overall going back to 1994. Pittsburgh beat Washington each of the past two years en route to winning a pair of Stanley Cups. It had reached a point where the consensus was basically that it was a fait accompli that the Pens would take this matchup every time because that’s all that ever happened. It strikes similar to the Bruins winning the 1988 Adams Division Final over the Canadiens after losing 18 straight series to the Habs in a 45-year span.
- Finally reaching that Conference Final. Obviously the next step here is for the Capitals to beat the Lightning, which is no small task. But getting over that Second Round hump is huge. They had been 0-for-6 in the Ovechkin era prior to this. There were all those losses to the Penguins. There was the blown 3-1 lead against the Rangers in 2015. “Let me know when they get out of the Second Round” was the line. Well, they just did.
- And that’s for all four DC teams. I might be wrong but my feeling whenever something you see something like this streak that’s so well publicized, it has to get in a player’s head. There’s no way someone isn’t thinking about it. I’m not saying it’s a cure-all and you’re going to see the Nationals tear through the NLDS this fall but I feel like the Capitals did some favors for the other three DC teams.
- Alex Ovechkin just shut up a lot people. Seriously. Any rumblings out there about Ovechkin and how he doesn’t show up in the playoffs (in which the numbers strongly suggest otherwise) were put to bed pretty quickly here. He was unbelievable in this series. OK, so he hasn’t won as much as Sid has. Guide me to the Washington roster in the Ovechkin era that also had a player as good as Evgeni Malkin.
- Sometimes it helps to be under the radar. I’m not one of these ‘avoid winning the Presidents’ Trophy at all costs’ people. In fact, I hate the notion that winning the Presidents’ Trophy is some sort of roadblock to winning the Stanley Cup. The fact that just two of the last 12 teams that finished with the NHL’s best regular season record have won the Stanley Cup speaks more to the parity the Salary Cap era has created than anything else. But I think there is truth to the idea of the pressure being off helping things with this team, which is playing with house money to begin with after losing so much last offseason. Now they’ll go into the Eastern Conference Final against a Lightning team that will likely be heavily favored.