LAS VEGAS — The nostalgia tour started with Sunday night’s flight into McCarran International Airport, the bright Las Vegas Strip coming into focus on the descent. The Capitals could pick out the MGM Grand, where they’d partied into the next morning here six months ago. Then on the short trip to T-Mobile Arena on Monday morning, Coach Todd Reirden tried to remember his exact steps from the last time he was here, just in case there was some good luck left in that path.
As forward Andre Burakovsky walked past the bars and restaurants flanking the arena, he chuckled at how many had made special signs during the Stanley Cup finals, jokingly offering a cocktail in honor of Alex Ovechkin — a white Russian without the cup.
Visiting locker rooms tend to be stale — home teams don’t exactly want their opponent to feel too comfortable there — but the Capitals were excited to get back in T-Mobile Arena’s ahead of their game there on Tuesday night. Of all the memories from the team’s raucous Stanley Cup celebrations, the champagne- and beer-soaked start in the locker room right after Washington first got its hands on the trophy with a Game 5 win remains the most meaningful for players.
When asked about his memories from the room following the win, forward Brett Connolly rhetorically replied, “The dressing room we ruined?”
The last time they saw that room, it was as if a boozy monsoon had blown through to the tune of the Capitals singing “We Are The Champions.” As players first entered the room ahead of a practice at the rink Monday, some joked about who did what where.
“The first thing I was looking at was if they changed the floors or the ceiling in here,” Burakovsky said.
“It has some real flashbacky-type feeling to it,” defenseman John Carlson said. “It’s where a lot of us achieved our dreams for the first time, so plenty of good feelings in that sense. I guess you could say it’s a little funky just thinking about what was happening in here the last time we were walking through here.”
Taking the ice again felt special, too. Certain moments stick out to Connolly from the seconds and minutes after Washington’s bench emptied in unbridled joy, from how he and forward T.J. Oshie just screamed in each other’s faces to when his family came down from the stands to join him, his grandfather touching the Cup for the first time. For Carlson, it was the tradition of each player hoisting the trophy and skating a lap with it before passing it to another teammate. It made him reflect on center Jay Beagle and goaltender Braden Holtby, and how the three of them had worked their way up from the minors together.
“The tradition is pretty special in my mind where it gets passed along, starting with Ovi and then Nick, who have been here for so long," Carlson said. "Seeing them achieve that for the first time and be very deserving of it, and then when it goes down along the line, you realize how long you’ve been here and the guys that are passing it to me and the guys I’m passing it to. That’s just kind of a sobering moment.”
While the Capitals arrived in Las Vegas atop the Metropolitan Division standings after winning eight of their past 10 games, the long flight was tinged with some disappointment after the team squandered a four-goal lead in the second period to fall to the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday afternoon. Holtby said the blessing in disguise of that jarring loss, which snapped a seven-game win streak, is that it forces the team to remember the task at hand rather than get wrapped up in the past. Captain Alex Ovechkin echoed that: “Of course when you coming back, you’re going to have memories, you’re going to have smile on your face, but as soon as the game starts, it’s a different day.”
But as Sin City’s skyline came into view, any lingering frustration from Sunday’s loss was temporarily cast aside to make room for the good time the Capitals associate with this place. Players rarely left their hotel rooms during the Stanley Cup finals, but on Monday, some took a stroll around the Strip, exploring a place that’s already meant so much to them.
“We made something special in this city and in this very room,” Burakovsky said back in the now booze-free locker room. “I think this is a cool place to win the Cup in.”
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