Can the Capitals repeat as champions? The second time will prove just as daunting, but it’s doable.
Washington begins defense of its Stanley Cup championship Thursday against the Carolina Hurricanes, who have emerged from a 10-year postseason exile. Maybe this series will be a breather for the Capitals, who swept the four-game regular-season series against Carolina. But we’ve seen favored Washington squads exit postseasons early. Nothing is easy in April.
After Carolina, the path will inspire memories of last year. The reward for beating the Hurricanes would be facing archrival Pittsburgh or former Caps coach Barry Trotz and his upstart Islanders.
Everyone knew something special was ahead for the Capitals last year after they beat Pittsburgh in the second round. After all, Caps-Pens is one of the top rivalries for Washington teams alongside Redskins-Cowboys and Nationals-Phillies. But there’s something deliciously tempting about the possibility of facing Trotz, who led the Capitals to the title before bolting as a free agent.
If the Capitals reach the Eastern Conference finals, they could meet the Lightning, just as they did last year, when they survived a seven-game series. Washington then beat the Vegas Knights in the Stanley Cup Final in five games.
This season, Tampa Bay tied the NHL record of 62 wins (compared to Washington’s 48), so the oddsmakers would peg the Caps as decided underdogs against the Lightning this time.
But if the Capitals are still standing when the finals start in June, strike up the band and get ready for another parade.
There’s just one problem with this scenario — Washington teams have rarely won titles, let alone back-to-back. Only D.C. United (1996-97) has won it all in consecutive years.
The Redskins reached consecutive Super Bowls only once, and lost to the Raiders as defending champions in 1984.
The Bullets lost their rematch to Seattle in 1979. And the Senators won the 1924 World Series only to lose to Pittsburgh in seven games the next season. Walter Johnson, the best player ever in the nation’s capital, gave up three runs in the eighth inning to lose the crown.
If you put D.C. history aside, it’s good to remember that this Capitals team finished with 104 points, only one fewer than last season.
Alex Ovechkin certainly isn’t worried about history, and do you think he is complacent after winning a ring last year? The man lives for drinking from the Cup.
Ovechkin, who will be 34 when next season begins, is nearing the sunset of his career, and the next few years are about chasing immortals.
It’s hard to do that with just one crown.
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