There’s a strange feeling that wells up from inside when a team is about to win their first Stanley Cup. It’s hard to describe — a mixture of anxiety, anticipation, excitement, terror, and catharsis. I have little connection to the Washington Capitals. Back when Alexander Ovechkin was a cocky twenty-something playing rough and generally being the villainous foil to Sidney Crosby and the good boy Penguins, the last thing I wanted was for him and his Capitals to win it all. Year after year, as the Capitals furthered their punchline status, I took some delight in their suffering. After all, nothing is given — just because you’re the best team in the league year after year doesn’t mean that you’re awarded the Stanley Cup too.
Last night, I was happy; overjoyed, even, that the Washington Capitals ended their 44 year drought and finally, finally won the Stanley Cup. The Alexander Ovechkin era had, up until this point, been full of misery, missed potential, expected disappointment, and mockery. All of that is gone now. All of it. A Stanley Cup victory changes everything.
Alex knows that. That’s why he played his heart out in the playoffs. That’s why he deserved the Conn Smythe Trophy in the end. And that’s why, when finally presented with the greatest trophy in sports, he reacted like this:
Unless you’re a Vegas Golden Knights fan, you probably can’t help but feel his ecstasy too. There hasn’t been a Cup raise this emotional since probably Ray Bourque’s in 2001. In the face of a long-suffering drought, the eventual win is just that much sweeter. Take note, Vegas: it’s downhill from here, but one day you’ll get that Cup and it will be awesome. Hopefully it doesn’t take you 44 years too.
The hockey in the Final was awesome, if messy. The Vegas Golden Knights completely lost their discipline and composure, the deft efficiency with which they slew their three previous foes. It’s funny — everyone had been predicting their decline since the very beginning. Their shooting percentages were unsustainable. Their goaltending couldn’t have been that good. And time after time, they seemed to silence their critics as they kept winning. Enter the Stanley Cup Final and the Washington Capitals: they made the Knights look like garbage. Perhaps the stats finally did regress to the mean. Perhaps Fleury’s 0.957 Sv% got in his head. Maybe the Capitals thrived without pressure, having been written off? Their goal scoring was fierce, exploiting Fleury’s lack of lateral movement ability often. Washington’s back end was stellar, limiting the high-flying knights to 5 goals over three games in the middle of the series. Then there’s “The Save,” Braden Holtby’s godlike effort to hold the lead in Game Two, kicking off the four-game winning streak that brought the Cup to DC. This, plus numerous scraps, hits, fights, and general bad blood, make this one of the most memorable Cup Finals in some time.
2018-05-28; WSH 4, VGK 6
2018-05-30; WSH 3, VGK 2
2018-06-02; VGK 1, WSH 3
2018-06-04; VGK 2, WSH 6
2018-06-07; WSH 4, VGK 3
WSH defeats VGK: 4-1
Prediction: Golden Knights in 5 ☓✓
I wonder where Vegas goes from here? For any other team, after a Cup Final appearance, nothing short of a Stanley Cup championship the following year is a disappointment. But I feel, despite everything I should have learned by now, that Vegas cannot possibly repeat this kind of success next year. I suppose the offseason may provide more clarity — it usually doesn’t — but I suspect the Knights will trend toward being a middle-of-the-pack team next year. We’ll see, of course. Anything can happen in the offseason.
Speaking of predictions, boy I picked the wrong year to give up picking the Capitals to win. Maybe it’s my fault? I made a committment last year not to ever pick this core of Capitals players to win again, and I followed through this year, predicting their opponent to win every series through this entire post-season. And obviously I was wrong every time. Yikes. Good for you though, Washington. I feel relieved of this burden now, and free to pick you as desired. Like I said before, a Cup win changes everything.
Speaking of Cup wins changing everything, what I really want more than anything hockey related, is the Stanley Cup to come to Buffalo. After Washington’s win, there are only three teams older that have yet to win a championship: the St. Louis Blues (1967-68), the Vancouver Canucks (1970-71), and the Buffalo Sabres (1970-71). If the Cup isn’t to be in the Sabres’ near future, I would definitely like to see one of those other two win. Now, there is a longer drought out there — that belongs to the Toronto Maple Leafs, who’d last won the Cup in 1967, the year before the Second Six expansion. As a Sabres fan, I would rather they kept that drought going indefinitely. Buffalo must win a Cup before Toronto gets another.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll see what the future may hold. The draft is two weeks from today, and the Sabres will no doubt select a defensive cornerstone. Could he, as a first-overall selection and generational talent like Ovechkin, finally deliver a Stanley Cup to a long(er) suffering fanbase? I hope so.
I decided to honor the Capitals’ victory by using the outstanding “Weagle” logo instead of the wordmark featured on the jerseys. It looks so damn good, so it’s no wonder the team, and even the league, seem to favor its use as a de facto primary logo. Now that the wordmark has a Cup to its name, I fear the Weagle may stay relegated to secondary status. However, a similar situation occurred with the Anaheim Ducks, and they made the right move eventually. Do it, Washington. Don’t think twice about it.