5 Moments You Should Never Mention to a Washington Capitals Fan
The Washington Capitals turn 40 next year.
This coming season will mark their 39th attempt to win a Stanley Cup. Wedged between years one through 39 have been many, many moments involving the team.
Some moments have been truly grand and momentous.
But ask any true Caps' fan and they would admit—begrudgingly—that the bad moments far outweigh the good ones.
The Caps are one of 12 current NHL franchises to have never won the Stanley Cup. At 38 seasons, the Caps have the fifth-longest Stanley Cup drought in the NHL.
What makes the situation more frustrating for Caps' fans is that the team has been to the playoffs 24 times in their 38 years of existence, and yet, they have been to the Stanley Cup Final just one time.
The sheer number of playoff failures is one thing. More than that, though—it is the way the Caps have lost that has been truly disheartening.
Over the years, the Caps have seemingly invented new ways to lose.
Out of all the sad and heartbreaking moments, it is very hard to pick the five worst.
Nevertheless, here are the five moments you should never mention to a true Caps fan—unless, of course, you like seeing people get rather depressed.
5. The Longest 6.6 Seconds
For many of us, the wounds of the No. 5 ugly moment have still not quite fully healed.
The 2011-12 Washington Capitals were very different from the teams that had dominated the Eastern Conference the previous four seasons or so.
They were not the Presidents' Trophy winners. They were not the No. 1 overall seed in the Eastern Conference. They were clearly not the best team in the conference—at least they were not as the playoffs began.
The Caps entered the 2012 NHL playoffs as the No. 7 overall seed. They drew the defending champion Boston Bruins in the opening round and were given virtually no chance by most experts.
On paper, the experts seemed to be right, the Bruins were the much deeper team and just seemed as though they would be far too much for the Caps.
But the Caps discovered how to play playoff hockey, and they shocked the Bruins in the only seven-game series in NHL playoff history where each game was decided by just one goal.
Joel Ward's overtime winner in Game 7 gave Caps fans everywhere hope that maybe—just maybe—this could be the year.
In the conference semifinals, the Caps would tangle with a very familiar foe, the New York Rangers. It would be the third time in four years that the two teams would meet. This time, the Blueshirts were the No. 1 seed in the East, and this would play a part in the No. 5 moment you just should not mention to a Caps fan.
The series was tied at 2-2, and Game 5 was played at Madison Square Garden. Like pretty much every game in that series, Game 5 was a war of attrition. Goals were hard to come by, and in the closing moments, the Caps were clinging to a 2-1 advantage.
But Ward, the hero of Game 7, against the Bruins, would be the goat of Game 5 as he drew a double-minor penalty. With Ward in the penalty box, the Rangers' Brad Richards would score the game-tying goal with just 6.6 seconds remaining in regulation.
If you watch the video of the game-tying goal, it is particularly frustrating. There is Jay Beagle trying to hand-pass the puck off the faceoff to give the Caps a chance to clear, but failing for all his effort.
There is the shot from just inside the blue line that seems to deflect off several players only to come to rest just to the side of Braden Holtby.
How many times does Ryan Callahan get a whack at the puck? How close is Holtby to being able to cover the puck before Richards pokes it in just inside the far post?
Do you remember what the Russian leader says to Rambo in Rambo II when he is being tortured?
"You may scream...there is no shame."
That is exactly how I feel watching that video even today.
To make matters worse, the Rangers would score the game-winner, on the second part of Ward's double-minor, just a minute-and-a-half into overtime. Marc Staal's blast gave the Rangers the 3-2 win and a 3-2 lead in the series.
Yes, the Caps would come back to win Game 6 before falling in Game 7. But if the Caps had held on to win Game 5, the outcome of that series might very well have been quite different.
Or the Caps might have done what they did this year and fail to score a goal in the final two games.
No, the 2012 Caps had a certain feeling to them, and if they could have held on to win Game 5, there is every reason to believe that they would have returned to the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since 1998.
Instead, Game 5—and the final 6.6 seconds of regulation of that game—represent one of those horrific moments that just should not be mentioned to a Caps fan.
4. The Montreal Meltdown
As bad as the No. 5 moment was, and still is, it does not hurt nearly as much as the No. 4 disaster.
The 2009-10 Washington Capitals were not just good—they were great. They won the Presidents' Trophy with a record of 54-15-13, amassing 121 points along the way and becoming the first non-Original Six team to crack the 120 point barrier.
The team was absolutely loaded with talent, and they had weapons up and down the lineup. Alexander Ovechkin was playing better than ever, as were Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin and Mike Green. If ever a Caps team seemed destined for greatness, it was this one.
When the playoffs began, the Caps drew the No. 8 seed, the Montreal Canadiens. The Caps had finished the regular season 33 points better than the Habs. Nevertheless, the Caps and Canadiens split the four regular-season battles they had that season.
In retrospect, perhaps what transpired was not such a surprise at all.
Yeah right...who am I kidding.
The WWE has the Montreal Screwjob.
The Washington Capitals have the Montreal Meltdown.
Problems began in Game 1 when the Caps lost in overtime, 3-2.
In Game 2, the Caps had to rally from a three-goal deficit to win in overtime, 6-5.
After the Caps won Games 3 and 4 in Montreal to take a 3-1 series lead, it was all over, except the shouting.
But, as Caps fans know, nothing is ever that easy.
In Game 5, the Caps came out flat, never found their rhythm and lost, 2-1.
In Game 6, the Caps threw everything they possibly could at Canadiens goaltender Jaroslav Halak. Halak had other ideas, though, as he stopped 53 of 54 shots fired on him, and Montreal tied the series at 3-3 with a 4-1 win.
While the entire series is just something you should not mention to a Caps fan, Game 7, in particular, is a bitter pill to swallow.
Just over halfway through the first period, Alexander Semin had a glorious opportunity to score. But, as was often the case with Semin in the playoffs, he fell short, striking the post.
Then there was the Caps' power play. The Caps had the best power play in the NHL during the regular season. Against the Habs though, the power play went a pathetic 1-for-33. In Game 7, the Caps had four more power-play opportunities and they failed each and every time.
Meanwhile, the Canadiens capitalized on one of their power-play chances and held a 1-0 lead into the third period.
In the opening moments of the third period, it looked like the Caps had tied the game at 1-1, but a very controversial goalie interference call nullified the score.
As the third period rolled on, the Caps had chance, after chance, after chance. Halak stopped them at every turn.
The Habs took a 2-0 lead with just under four minutes to go. Brooks Laich finally got one past Halak to make it 2-1, and the Caps would get a glorious power-play chance in the closing moments with a chance to tie the game and extend the season.
It never happened, and the Canadiens became the first No. 8 seed to rally from a 3-1 series deficit to defeat a No. 1 seed.
Halak ended up stopping 131 of 134 shots over the final three games. The Caps simply did not know how to excel in a playoff game when their offense was taken away from them. Many, many Caps fans felt, and still feel, that the 2009-10 Caps offered the franchise their best opportunity to win a Stanley Cup.
Watching it all unravel the way it did is one of those moments you just should not mention to a Caps fan.
3. The Easter Epic
There are numerous similarities between things that transpired in relation to the No. 4 moment and the events that led up to the No. 3 moment.
The 1986-87 version of the Washington Capitals were not nearly as lethal as their 2009-10 counterparts. The 1986-87 Caps finished with a record of 38-32-10, good for 86 points.
In the playoffs, the Caps would meet the New York Islanders for the fifth consecutive season. The Isles had won three of the previous four meetings between the clubs, but the Caps won the most recent series.
Along the way, the Islanders became the first team in NHL playoff history to rally from a 2-0 series deficit to win a best-of-five series, when they beat the Caps in the 1985 division semifinals.
Thus, the stage was set for more drama. Similar to the 2010 playoffs, the Caps would split the first two games of the series. They would then go to Long Island and win the next two games to take a 3-1 series lead.
Just like in 2010, the Caps would lose Game 5, on home ice, and would then drop Game 6 back on Long Island.
Game 7 would turn into one of those rare games that is so epic it actually has a name—"The Easter Epic."
The Caps would hold a 2-1 lead until late in the third period when Bryan Trottier tied the game at 2-2.
From there, though, things took a turn for the surreal.
For the next three overtimes, Caps goaltender Bob Mason and Islanders goaltender Kelly Hrudey made amazing save after amazing save.
The two goalies were just in a different zone, and for the longest time, it seemed that there was just no way either team would be able to score.
Finally, at the 8:47 mark of the fourth overtime, Pat LaFontaine ended the drama in excruciating fashion for Caps' fans.
LaFaontaine took a puck that was standing on end and fired a slap shot from just inside the blue line. It is hard to tell whether the puck was deflected or even if it might have been deflected more than once.
Regardless, Mason never saw the puck, and as the red light came on, it ended the 10th-longest game in NHL history and the longest Game 7 in NHL playoff history.
It also remains embedded in the consciousness of Caps fans everywhere as one of the all-time low points in franchise history.
2. Esa Misses the Open Net
The Washington Capitals have been to the Stanley Cup Final just once—back in 1998.
In the final, the Caps tangled with the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Detroit Red Wings.
The Caps would lose a hard-fought Game 1 in Detroit, 2-1. It was Game 2, however, that would be the defining game of the series.
It would also produce the No. 2 entrant on this list of moments that you just should not mention to a Caps fan.
Goals by Peter Bondra, Chris Simon, and now, head coach Adam Oates, had given the Caps a 3-1 lead in the second period.
The Caps would get a power-play opportunity and had a chance to really salt the game away (one of many such opportunities in the game). Instead, Steve Yzerman would score a shorthanded goal to trim the Caps lead to 3-2.
In the third period, Joe Juneau—the man whose overtime winner against the Buffalo Sabres had catapulted the Caps to the Stanley Cup Final—would score to give the Caps a 4-2 lead.
Martin Lapointe would continue the furious Red Wings rally with a goal with 11:52 remaining. That would set the stage for the No. 2 moment on this list.
With just about 10 minutes remaining in regulation, Esa Tikkanen came into the Detroit zone and faked a slap shot. Chris Osgood went to the ice to block the shot, and Tikkanen, still in control of the puck, maneuvered around Osgood.
Tikkanen had as wide-open a net as anyone could possibly hope for. Inexplicably, he missed the net. As the puck trickled just wide of the net, the Caps' hope for a Stanley Cup went awry right along with it.
Doug Brown would tie the game with 4:14 left in regulation. From there, the Red Wings were dominant and Kris Draper's goal with 4:46 left in overtime completed the comeback and gave Detroit a 2-0 series lead.
The Wings would win the next two games in Washington and would repeat as champions. No team has won back-to-back Stanley Cup championships since the 1997-98 Red Wings.
The Caps, meanwhile, have never even made it back to the Eastern Conference Final since that magical run in 1998.
Now, sure, the Wings were the better team. It is very likely that, even if Tikkanen scored and the Caps won Game 2, Detroit still would have won the series.
Then again, maybe not. If the Caps had won Game 2 and gone home with a split, what would that have done to the psyche of the Red Wings? How much confidence would the Caps have drawn from that win, knowing they were heading home in control of the series?
Instead of a crushing defeat, the Caps would have had a huge win, a ton of confidence and all the momentum.
Alas, it was never meant to be. Tikkanen's miss was one of the biggest blown opportunities in the history of the franchise, perhaps even the biggest ever.
It is a painful moment to relive and a moment no Caps' fan wants to be reminded of too often.
1. Multiple Playoff Failures Against the Pittsburgh Penguins
For the Washington Capitals and their fans, the Pittsburgh Penguins represent a house of horrors.
The Pens have been so devastating to the fortunes of the Caps over the years—and have been the perpetrators of so many terrible moments in franchise history—that it is impossible to really isolate just one moment as being the worst of them all.
Instead, you can pretty much merge all of the various disasters together and call the collected whole the No. 1 moment you really don't want to mention to Caps fans.
Where to begin?
It was actually back in 1991 when the two teams would meet in the playoffs for the first time. The Pens would easily dispatch the Caps in the Eastern Conference Semifinals in five games en route to their first Stanley Cup.
Back then, the Penguins had superstars on their team named Mario Lemieux, Ron Francis, Jaromir Jagr and Ulf Samuelsson. The Penguins would repeat as champions in 1992.
To get there, the Pens would again defeat the Caps in the playoffs, but this time, they would rally from a 3-1 series deficit to break the hearts of Caps fans everywhere.
The Caps had no shortage of talent back in those days either, as they had players like Dino Ciccarelli, Mike Ridley and Kevin Hatcher leading the way. But when the Pens capped off that tremendous rally in the 1992 playoffs, the seeds of great heartbreak for the Caps and their fans were truly planted.
The teams have met in the playoffs a stunning eight times over the years. Even more surprising is the fact that the Penguins have won the series seven of eight times. Twice, they have overcome a 3-1 series deficit, and twice more, they were able to climb out of a 2-0 series hole.
In 1995 and 1996 in particular, the Pens absolutely ripped the hearts out of the chest of Caps fans everywhere.
The Caps and Pens squared off in the opening round of the 1995 playoffs. The Caps only playoff series win over the Pens happened a year earlier.
Like the previous year, the teams split the first two games in Pittsburgh. Like the previous season, the Caps then went on to win the next two games in D.C., both of them 6-2 thrashings. Just like the season before, the Pens would win Game 5 in Pittsburgh to force a Game 6 in Washington.
But this time around, the Pens would absolutely crush the Caps, 7-1, in Game 6. Jagr, Luc Robitaille and Tomas Sandstrom each scored two goals, and the momentum of the series was squarely with Pittsburgh.
In Game 7, Ken Wregget would stop 33 shots, and for the second time in three years, the Penguins rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to defeat the Caps. The defeat was almost mind-numbing for the Caps, especially since the Pens did not have the services of Lemieux for the series.
The teams would lock up again in the first round of the 1996 playoffs. Once again, the series would begin in Pittsburgh. This time, though, the Caps would win the first two games in the Steel City. The Penguins would prevail in D.C. in Game 3, and this set the stage for one of the greatest games in NHL playoff history.
Game 4 of the 1996 Caps vs. Penguins series was an epic in every sense of the word. It was as tense a hockey game as you can possibly imagine. But it was all about Petr Nedved. Nedved scored to tie the game up, and then things got interesting. Wregget stopped Joe Juneau on a penalty shot in OT and set the stage for more drama later on.
At the 19:15 mark of the fourth overtime, Nedved would strike again, ending the fifth-longest overtime game in NHL playoff history and evening the series up.
That's right folks, a second four-overtime game involving the Capitals.
Game 5 would not be remembered so much for the Pens 4-1 win but for the series of brawls at the end of the game that saw the Pens Alek Stojanov leave bloodied and saw the coaches for both teams nearly engage in a brawl of their own.
In Game 6, goals from Jagr, Francis and Lemieux, who had returned to the Pens lineup, sealed the deal, and the Pens had, once again, rallied from two games down in the series to defeat the Caps.
Feeling ill yet Caps' fans?
Unfortunately, we are not quite done yet.
The 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinals between the Penguins and Capitals remains one of the greatest playoff series in NHL history. But just as in years past, the Caps dominated early in the series, but could not close the deal.
Ever since they were drafted No. 1 overall in consecutive seasons, Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby were on a collision course. They were the faces of the NHL, the present NHL in the wake of the recovery from the 2004-2005 lockout and the future of the league.
With the NHL surging in popularity, all it was going to take was a matchup between the league's marquee players to allow the NHL to reach all new heights.In the 2009 playoffs, the Caps rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to upend the New York Rangers, and when the Carolina Hurricanes scored two goals in the final 90 seconds to beat the New Jersey Devils in Game 7, one of the most anticipated playoff series in NHL history was finally a done deal. The two teams would not disappoint.
Five of the first six games were decided by just one goal. Three of the games went into overtime. The highlight of all of this was Game 2 where Ovechkin and Crosby each scored hat tricks. The Caps would prevail, 4-3, to take a 2-0 series lead, and, in an unsettling way, things felt like the '90s all over again.
When the Pens won Game 3 in overtime, and then won Game 4 by the score of 5-3, fans everywhere had to feel like they had just jumped into a flying Delorean and had gone back to 1995. The Pens would win Game 5 in overtime and head home to, presumably, put the series away.
But Dave Steckel would score in overtime of Game 6, and, suddenly, the Caps had the momentum heading home for what promised to be one of the all-time great Game 7s in NHL history.
It never worked out that way, though. Marc-Andre Fleury stoned Ovechkin on a breakaway attempt early in Game 7, and goals by Crosby and Craig Adams—just eight seconds apart in the first period—gave the Pens a lead they would not relinquish.
The Penguins would win Game 7 by the final count of 6-2, and, yet again, the Pens got the best of the Caps in a playoff series. Pittsburgh would go on to win its first Stanley Cup since 1992. The Caps have never quite been the same.
The teams have not met in the playoffs again since the epic 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinals, but they are both divisional rivals now in the new Metropolitan division.
Whether the Caps can exercise any of these demons in the years to come remains to be seen.
For now, though, as far as the Pittsburgh Penguins are concerned, silence is golden.