Capitals Are Swept Out of Stanley Cup Finals
By Rachel Alexander
The Stanley Cup was wheeled onto Washington ice for the first time in NHL history last night, tauntingly close to the Capitals but too far away to touch. It had been like this throughout the Stanley Cup finals, so close in front of them but still so far away, and in the end the Capitals discovered they simply couldn't make up the distance in between.
The Detroit Red Wings, champions for a second consecutive season, celebrated wildly as they wrapped up a 4-1 victory and a four-game sweep, and the sellout crowd of 19,740 at MCI Center gave them a polite ovation. But though the Red Wings led throughout the game and finished with a three-goal advantage, the loudest cheers were for the home team, the Capitals squad that engineered this surprisingly sweet and successful postseason.
Almost no one in the crowd left early, waiting patiently to give tribute to a team that didn't play to its potential in this series but still managed to awaken a city to the sport of hockey and a franchise to the possibility of greatness.
"You're disappointed obviously to get this far and come so close to realizing a dream, but I'm very proud of our team," Capitals Coach Ron Wilson said. As he spoke, the Red Wings were still on the ice, holding the Stanley Cup, holding the most valuable player trophy awarded to captain Steve Yzerman and holding the hand of injured defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov, in a wheelchair after last summer's tragic limousine wreck but still able to enjoy the moment.
The hubbub of the celebration wafted into the room where Wilson sat, but his words remained clear above the noise. "We competed," he said. "I'm proud of our players. I'm proud of our organization. And I know we'll be back."
This was the first Stanley Cup finals appearance in the Capitals' 24-year history but the ninth Stanley Cup victory for Detroit, which also swept Philadelphia in last year's finals. It was the eighth Stanley Cup coaching victory for Scotty Bowman. The last four NHL championships have been won in four-game series, a fact that hung over the Capitals as they came into last night's game trying to take a step toward becoming the first team since the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs to overcome a three-games-to-none deficit.
Going into the game, the team's rallying cry had been "remember 1942," but their mantra was "win the first period." With that in mind, they came out flying in the first few minutes, recording two shots within 45 seconds of the opening faceoff. But despite some nice power-play chances for Brian Bellows and Adam Oates, Detroit managed to take over by mid-period.
Ten minutes 30 seconds into the game, Detroit right wing Doug Brown scored the first of his two goals, both the result of artful passes by Sergei Fedorov, the star winger who scored the game winner in Game 3.
As soon as they took a 1-0 lead, the Red Wings began pressing, winning territorial battles in front of the Washington net and cycling the puck with relative ease. Goaltender Olaf Kolzig kept the Capitals in the game, as he has so many times over the past two months, but he looked helpless 2:26 into the second period, when Martin Lapointe scored on a slap shot from just inside the blueline. The Red Wings were jubilant, and a noticeable pall fell over the crowd. Many of the signs that fans had brought to encourage the Capitals lay face down on the floor and dejected stares crossed the faces on the Washington bench.
"Obviously we were frustrated, down," Oates said. "That's one thing you learn as you get older and you play in playoffs, that all of a sudden it happens pretty fast. Eight days, and all of a sudden you're losing four games in a row."
It took Bellows's goal, 7:49 into the second period, to wake the Capitals again, and they certainly jumped when he sounded the alarm. With the score 2-1, everyone at MCI Center was suddenly talking of a comeback, but the talk lasted longer than Washington's actual chance at a victory. First, former Capitals defenseman Larry Murphy scored, and Brown followed, his goal coming 1:32 into the third period to extinguish any hopes of a Washington comeback.
At one point in the third period, it even looked as if Detroit might increase its lead, but Kolzig held his ground, and the minutes eventually, almost mercifully, fell off the clock.
"It's a pretty empty feeling right now, like we've just played two months of hockey for nothing, but in a couple of weeks we'll realize that it meant more than it seems to us right now," Kolzig said. "We came a long way this year as a team and an organization, but we lost to a great hockey team. They were the champs, they played like champs."
After the game, with the Red Wings converging on goaltender Chris Osgood in a wild pile-on, the Capitals all skated to Kolzig and rubbed his head, then saluted the crowd that cheered them. After shaking hands with the victors, they filed into their locker room, leaving Wilson on the Capitals' bench to watch Detroit pass the Cup around. "I'm a fan of hockey, and that's something you dream of seeing," he said. "There's no point hiding in the back room and avoiding it. You want to see the Stanley Cup up close, and dream that next year, it's going to be our team that holds it over our heads."
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