“We Are The Champions” played as the video board showed a montage of the Capitals’ raucous and boozy celebrations from the summer — which appropriately featured a lot of drunken singing of “We Are The Champions.” When it was over, Ovechkin picked up the Stanley Cup, and he set it down on the ice so the Capitals could get one last photo with it — this time with the brand new championship banner behind them.
Finally, Ovechkin kissed the chalice goodbye and set it into its trunk, the end to what had been an emotional ceremony. After all of that, the Capitals had a game to play and a title to defend. They looked like a team poised to do just that in a 7-0 rout of the Boston Bruins in the season opener.
“You don’t think you’re going to win 82,” forward T.J. Oshie said, “but the way we played, the way we stuck together, the way we battled, the way we backchecked, did the little things, that’s what got us the Stanley Cup last year, and it seems like that’s still in our game right now. I believe it.”
It was Oshie who started the “back-to-back” chants on the Mall after the Capitals’ parade in June, and it was fittingly Oshie who scored Washington’s first goal of the 2018-19 season — on the first shift of the game just 24 seconds after it began. Eighty-three seconds later, Evgeny Kuznetsov scored on the power play to give the Capitals a 2-0 lead.
“You’re sitting there on the ice getting pumped up for about 25 minutes from videos and chants and the crowd, and the other team’s just sitting there doing nothing in the locker room,” Oshie said. “We were pretty excited to get this one started.”
Earlier in the day, team owner Ted Leonsis worried that players could get wrapped up in the fanfare, that they could easily find themselves down two goals after the first period, and if that happened, he feared players could be booed off the ice at intermission. Fans instead gave the Capitals a standing ovation for what had been a clinical opening period.
“It definitely was a concern,” Coach Todd Reirden said. “I was really proud of our leaders to be able to come out of a situation . . . covering the gauntlet of emotions. Guys were maybe crying, and guys were ecstatic. Then to have to go play against a team that’s had a lot of success in the league the last couple years in Boston. So I challenged the leadership group with how they were going to respond and how they were going to set the tone for our team. I said, ‘Somebody’s going to do it. Who’s it going to be in here?’”
It was a little bit of everyone. Less than five minutes into the second period, Ovechkin fired his signature one-timer from just outside his left faceoff circle sweet spot to extend the lead to three goals. Less than two minutes later, center Nic Dowd, the one new face in the lineup, scored with a backhand. Seventy-five seconds after that, Kuznetsov scored his second power-play goal.
With 4:15 left in the period, the Capitals got their fourth man-advantage goal in five minor penalties with John Carlson’s slap shot on a five-on-three.
“It’s new season, right?” Ovechkin said Tuesday. “We know how we have to play. We know what give us result. Every game is going to be counting; every point is very important point. For us, we just have to play normal game, and don’t think about too much because for us right now, as soon as we start playing hockey and playing our way, we know it’s hard to beat us.”
Nothing about Wednesday’s game was normal. Past opening nights have featured a red carpet entrance for players with elaborate pregame introductions. Players don their best suits and sign autographs as they walk into the arena. Some sported an extra accessory this time — a championship ring they each received in a private ceremony Monday night. As both teams returned to the locker room after warmups, the Capital One Arena public address announcer boomed that the evening’s matchup would feature the Boston Bruins against the “defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.” An arena that was already mostly full nearly an hour before puck drop responded with the sound of cowbells ringing.
But to a degree, it felt like the Capitals never stopped playing. The summer was short after such a long playoff run, and when players came back to Washington for a new training camp, all but two players who had dressed in the Stanley Cup finals were back. The team had a new coach in Reirden — Wednesday’s blowout over Boston marked his first NHL win — but he had been an assistant coach with the Capitals for four years.
There was one black cloud over otherwise celebratory proceedings. Just before 4 p.m., the NHL’s Department of Player Safety announced a 20-game suspension for forward Tom Wilson for what it deemed an illegal check to the head of St. Louis’s Oskar Sundqvist in the teams’ preseason finale. Wilson skated onto the ice in his Capitals jersey like the rest of his teammates, and his ovation was among the loudest.
But by the time the game was over, the harsh discipline was temporarily forgotten. The Capitals had something new to celebrate, a first win in the first game in a new quest to bring the Stanley Cup back to Washington.