Was it really 16 years ago that Joe Juneau banged a rebound in overtime past Buffalo’s Dominik Hasek to advance the Capitals to their first — and still only — Stanley Cup finals appearance?
I was wrapping up my freshman year of high school and watched the game with a group of friends I had introduced to hockey during Washington’s thrilling playoff run. Juneau’s goal remains among the highlights of my sports-watching life, and while I didn’t cry that night, the Capitals nearly did.
An excerpt from Liz Clarke’s game story:
After the victory, team captain Dale Hunter held aloft the Prince of Wales Trophy, awarded to the Eastern Conference champion, bringing his teammates nearly to tears.
“It’s been a long time coming, to get the chance to win the Stanley Cup championship,” said Hunter, an 18-year veteran. “It’s just an unbelievable feeling.”
The elegant silver trophy was passed among the players and made its way into the locker room, where Capitals took turns posing for pictures with it wearing nothing but towels and freshly embroidered championship hats.
Should the Capitals win the Stanley Cup, they’ll join Washington’s Redskins (1983, 1988 and 1992), former NBA Bullets (now Wizards) (1978), soccer’s D.C. United (1996 and 1997) and the Washington Senators (1924) in bringing their sport’s ultimate title home to the nation’s capital. Simply earning a shot to do so makes them, overnight, the city’s most unexpected heroes.
The Capitals were swept by the Red Wings in the finals and no major D.C. sports team has appeared in a championship game or round since.
Unbeknownst to anyone at the time, watching the team’s postgame celebration in Buffalo on June 4, 1998, was like staring into a window of the next 16 years of the Capitals’s future, minus the whole trip to the Stanley Cup finals thing, Bruce Boudreau and Alex Ovechkin.
It featured an on-ice interview with future Capitals coach Dale Hunter…
…and future Capitals coach Adam Oates…
… and recently dismissed general manager George McPhee, who reacted to Juneau’s game-winner by bear-hugging assistant Shawn Simpson.
Not present: current Capitals GM Brian MacLellan, who was working for an investment consulting firm in Minneapolis at the time and would later replace Simpson, which may or may not have led to some sour grapes.
Capitals Coach Barry Trotz, who was hired as the head coach of the expansion Nashville Predators in 1997, was probably walking around a Home Depot somewhere.
It was an exciting time. The Post even created a Web page to commemorate the feat.