Would he or wouldn’t he? The most pressing question after the Capitals finished off the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 on Wednesday to clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup finals was whether Washington captain Alex Ovechkin would cast aside superstition and touch the Prince of Wales Trophy, awarded to the Eastern Conference champion.
Ovechkin didn’t just touch the trophy; he picked it up, skated over to his teammates and arranged a group photo with the Capitals’ new hardware in the center of the shot.
So, what’s the big deal? Well, some believe the Eastern Conference champions should refrain from touching the Prince of Wales Trophy and the Western Conference champions should keep their hands off the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl because neither trophy is the Stanley Cup, and the only thing that’s worth winning is the Stanley Cup, and touching a trophy that isn’t the Stanley Cup might be a curse. It’s a silly superstition that dates to 1997, when Flyers captain Eric Lindros refused to accept the Prince of Wales Trophy after Philadelphia defeated the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference finals.
“We’ve made it three steps, and it’s four to win it all,” explained Lindros, who looked at the Prince of Wales Trophy with disdain.
The Flyers were swept by the Red Wings that year, but the no-touching tradition caught on, even if it took a few years. In 1998, the Capitals defeated the Buffalo Sabres in the Eastern Conference finals and had no qualms about celebrating with the Prince of Wales Trophy.
During NBC Sports Network’s postgame show Wednesday, analysts Keith Jones and Mike Milbury briefly discussed Ovechkin’s decision to touch the trophy.
“Dale Hunter, the former captain, who had waited a long time for his chance, picked it up and skated over to the rest of his teammates,” Jones said, recalling Washington’s only other Eastern Conference finals win in 1998. “They lost four straight to the Red Wings, so history has not been great to the Capitals.”
“They don’t believe in that,” Milbury said.
“This team’s been too good to believe it, to be honest with you,” Jones agreed.
“It’s a beautiful trophy. It’s a great accomplishment,” Milbury said. “There’s nothing wrong with picking it up. You don’t have to parade it around like you won the Stanley Cup. You pick it up; you walk it into the room. It’s a symbol of something special that you accomplished.”
There’s also scant evidence that touching the trophy brings any sort of bad luck. Since losing his first Stanley Cup finals appearance in 2008 after not touching the Prince of Wales Trophy, Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has touched the trophy three times and gone on to win the Stanley Cup three times. The Nashville Predators refused to touch the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl after winning the Western Conference last year and lost to the Penguins in the Stanley Cup finals. Of the 20 Stanley Cup winners since 1997, 10 touched the conference championship trophy, and 10 did not. Of the 20 Stanley Cup losers since 1997, seven touched the conference championship trophy, and 13 did not. Some superstition.
There have been four instances over the past 20 years in which the Eastern Conference and Western Conference champions both touched their respective trophies. The Western Conference team went on to win the Stanley Cup in three of those years, including 1998, when the Detroit Red Wings swept the Capitals. That could bode well for the Vegas Golden Knights, who, upon former Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury’s advice, became the first Western Conference champion since the 2004 Calgary Flames to touch the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl after closing out Winnipeg on Sunday.
“We decided as a group to take it because we went through the experience together,” Vegas defenseman Deryk Engelland told reporters afterward. “[Fleury] has been the backbone to our team, so more or less it came down to what he wanted to do.”
Meanwhile, it’s unclear whether Ovechkin has let the Prince of Wales Trophy out of his sight since deciding to touch it. The Capitals should bring the thing to Las Vegas. Superstitions and jinxes apparently are no match for this year’s team.
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