5 Biggest Villains in Washington Capitals History
Throughout their somewhat tortured history, many a player has come along that can rightfully be considered a villain of the Washington Capitals.
That is not to say these players were criminals or outlaws. Heck, none of these villains could really be considered bad people at all.
Yet when you look at the short-term and long-term damage these players did to the Caps franchise, they are every bit as villainous as the Joker or Voldemort or the Matrix or Darth Vader or... well, you get the point.
You can mix and match members of the New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, New Jersey Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins during the late 1980s through the late 1990s and start naming names that make Caps fans cringe to this very day.
Go up to a long-time Caps fan and say names like Denis Potvin, Kelly Hrudey, Pat Verbeek or Bob Brooke and watch the reaction.
And yet, none of those four guys ranks in my top five biggest villains in the history of the Washington Capitals.
So who, in my opinion, has done the most damage to our beloved franchise?
My friends, come with me to a dark place where we shall brave the blackness together.
5. Sidney Crosby
Sidney Crosby and the Penguins sink the Caps in Game 7 of the 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinals.
For modern fans of the Washington Capitals—or those who started rooting for the Caps once Alexander Ovechkin came to town—Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins is public enemy number one.
I have been a Caps fan for more than 30 years now and no player that I can recall generates quite as much animosity among Caps fans as Sid the Kid. He is as polarizing a hockey player for Caps fans as there can possibly be.
It is not hard to see where the intense dislike of Crosby comes from. Ever since Ovechkin was drafted No. 1 overall in 2004 and Crosby was then drafted No. 1 in 2005, the two men have been inextricably linked to one another.
The fact that both men had a huge part is making the NHL successful after the disastrous 2004-05 lockout only made the rivalry grow more intense at an accelerated rate.
The two men met on the International stage several times and once they debuted in the NHL, every game between the Caps and Penguins took on an added dimension—and this was despite the fact that the Pens and Caps were terrible teams when both superstars debuted.
But the reason why Crosby appears on my list—and on the list of many—is because of the 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinals.
In the 2009 playoffs, the NHL finally got what it had been salivating for ever since the 2004-05 lockout ended: a playoff battle between the two biggest names in the sport.
And, oh, how Ovechkin and Crosby delivered in one of the best seven game series in recent memory. Most everyone will remember Game 2, where Ovi and Sid the Kid registered hat tricks.
It is what Crosby did after Game 2, though, that made him such a villain to the Caps chances in that series.
In Game 3, he assisted on Kris Letang's overtime winner that got the Pens back into the series.
Crosby would score the game-winning goal in Game 4 as the Pens tied the series up.
He would score the game-tying goal with less than five minutes remaining in Game 6 to force overtime.
In Game 7, he would score the first and last goals for the Pens, and added an assist, as Pittsburgh routed Washington 6-2 in an anti-climactic finale to a fantastic series.
In that playoff series, Crosby would finish with eight goals and five assists. Not even the repeated heroics of Ovechkin in that series were enough. Crosby was probably the biggest reason the Caps fell to the Pens in 2009.
It is a difficult pill to swallow for many Caps fans.
If it wasn't for Crosby's enormous effort, the Caps would have gone on to face the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Finals where the matchup would have been in the Caps' favor.
The Pens swept the Canes—there is every reason to believe the Caps might have attained a similar result.
In the overall history of the franchise though, the damage Crosby has done has been rather localized and limited to that one series. Caps fans love to hate him and there is little question that what he did to the franchise in 2009 will never be forgotten.
Still, it was just one series and until the Caps and Penguins square off in the playoffs again, Crosby will have to be content for being the fifth biggest villain in the history of the Washington Capitals.
4. Pat LaFontaine
One of the greatest games ever...and one of the most bitter defeats in Caps' history.
Just how tormented a history do the Washington Capitals have?
Ponder this for a moment: The team has played in—and lost—two of the 10 longest games in NHL playoff history.
Now, one can make an argument that you could put Petr Nedved into this spot. Clearly, Nedved's performance in Game 4 of the 1996 series between the Caps and Pittsburgh Penguins was nothing short of epic.
Nedved scored to tie the game up, and then, 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.
As epic as that goal and game were, it was not the end of that series. For sheer drama and heartbreak, there is nothing that can quite match the "Easter Epic." The man who ended that game, Pat LaFontaine, has a special place in the hearts and minds of Caps fans—and not a good place.
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. 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.
The Caps would lose Game 5 on home ice and would then drop Game 6 back to 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.
LaFontaine 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.
That game, perhaps more so than any other, really brings to light the terrible luck the Caps have had in the playoffs. There were so many chances for them to win that game. When you outshoot a team by some 20 shots on home ice, you should win.
Instead, the Caps blew another series to the Islanders. To do so in such agonizing fashion made many of us feel that the team was cursed.
It is a feeling that persists to this very day and we have LaFontaine to thank for it.
3. Jaroslav Halak
Jaroslav Halak absolutely steals Game 6 of the 2010 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
Throughout their history, the Capitals have been victimized by the hot goalie time and time again. Never, however, was that more true than in 2010 when Jaroslav Halak single-handedly defeated, quite possibly, the best Caps team of all time.
While all five of the men on this list are true villains of the Caps franchise, Halak might be the man who destroyed the Caps' best chance to win the Stanley Cup.
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.
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.
Prior to Game 5, it was very unclear who would start in net for the Habs. Halak had been largely ineffective so far and Carey Price had not looked much better. Halak got the nod—and everything changed.
In Game 5, the Caps came out flat, never found their rhythm and lost, 2-1. Along the way, Halak was sensational stopping 37 of the 38 shots he faced.
In Game 6, the Caps threw everything they possibly could at 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.
Watch the video included with this slide: Halak's performance that night is some of the best goaltending you will ever see.
Game 7 was more of the same.
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. After going 0-for-6 in Game 6, the Caps followed that up by wasting four more opportunities in Game 7.
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 would turn aside 41 of the 42 shots he faced in Game 7. He ended up stopping 131 of 134 shots over the final three games. The Caps simply did not know how to solve him.
Many Caps fans felt, and still feel, that the 2009-10 Caps offered the franchise their best opportunity to win a Stanley Cup.
That opportunity was stolen from them by one of the biggest villains in the history of the franchise.
2. Henrik Lundqvist
Henrik Lundqvist records the first of his two consecutive shutouts of the Caps in Game 6 of the 2013 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
The second-biggest villain in the history of the Washington Capitals is the most recent thorn in the side of the team.
The Capitals and New York Rangers have met in the playoffs four times in the past five seasons and three seasons in a row. Opposing them every step of the way has been quite possibly the best goaltender in the NHL, Henrik Lundqvist.
The Caps got the better of Lundqvist at first—but even then it was no easy task.
In the 2009 NHL playoffs, the tremendous play by Lundqvist helped the Rangers take a stunning 3-1 series lead over the Caps. This included a 35 save shutout of the Caps in Game 2 and stopping 38 of the 39 shots he faced in a 2-1 win in Game 4.
The Caps eventually solved Lundqvist and came back to win the series in seven games. But how much did that sort of effort take out of the team and did this have an impact on what happened against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the next round?
In the 2011 playoffs Lundqvist did not play badly. It was just that the No. 1 seeded Caps were on a mission and, for once, puck luck was on their side. Even so, the Caps 4-1 series win could hardly be considered easy.
The following year though, the tide began to turn. After upsetting the defending champions the Boston Bruins in the opening round, only Lundqvist and the top seeded Rangers stood between the Caps and a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in 14 years.
Lundqvist stood tall at almost every critical moment. In a classic, triple overtime Game 3 win, Lundqvist stopped 45 of 46 shots to steal a huge win for the Rangers.
In Game 7, after the Caps had tied the series up and seemed to have the momentum. Lundqvist again rose to the occasion as he stopped 22 of the 23 shots he faced and the Rangers eliminated perhaps the most balanced Caps team in their entire playoff history.
As good as his performance was in 2012, the efforts of Lundqvist against the Caps in 2013 were even better.
This time around, the Caps were the higher seed and were a better offensive team than they had been a year earlier. When the Caps won the first two games of the series, it seemed as though the Caps might just roll right through the Blueshirts.
Again, Lundqvist had other ideas. Though he was hardly spectacular, Lundqvist would stop 56 of the 61 shots he faced in Games 3 and 4. Consecutive 4-3 wins by the Rangers tied the series at 2-2.
In Game 5, Lundqvist was brilliant and he stopped 33 of the 35 shots he faced. Only a fortunate bounce and a great goal by Mike Ribeiro rescued the Caps and gave them a 3-2 series lead heading back to the Big Apple.
That set the stage for one of the great goaltending performances in recent memory. With the Caps seemingly on the verge of moving on, Lundqvist absolutely denied them—and then some.
In Game 6, Lundqvist was perfect, stopping all 27 shots he faced. He needed to be perfect as Caps goalie, Braden Holtby, matched him save for save. Holtby allowed only one goal—but it was one goal too many as the Rangers tied the series with a 1-0 win.
Game 7 was a blowout but that did not diminish the fact that if it was not for some tremendous saves by Lundqvist, things might have been different. The Caps threw it all at Lundqvist in Game 7 and Lundqvist just would not be denied.
In shutting out the high powered Caps in consecutive games, Lundqvist stopped 62 shots and flat out stole the series from the Caps.
How far might the Caps have gone in 2012 if not for Lundqvist? What might have happened in 2013 if Lundqvist had not blanked them in consecutive games?
No one knows for sure.
All we do know is that Lundqvist is one of the biggest villains in the history of the Washington Capitals.
1. Mario Lemieux
Just one example of Mario Lemieux completely smashing the Caps' playoff chances.
I saved the worst for last.
No one player in the history of the NHL has been more responsible for the despair of Caps fans the world over than No. 66 of the Pittsburgh Penguins—Mario Lemieux.
Lemieux and his Penguins met the Capitals in the playoffs a stunning seven times between 1991 and 2001. Lemieux played in five of those series. The Pens, not surprisingly, prevailed in four of those five series.
It was in 1991 when the two teams met in the playoffs for the first time. The Pens easily dispatched the Caps in the Eastern Conference Semifinals in five games en route to their first Stanley Cup.
Lemieux scored two goals and seven assists in that 1991 whitewashing of the Caps.
In 1992, the Penguins would look to repeat as champions. Again, the Caps were there waiting for them. Once again, Lemieux would crush the hopes and dreams of Caps fans.
Things started off really well for the Caps. The Caps won Games 1 and 2 on home ice by a combined score of 9-3. The Pens would finally get on track with a 6-4 win in Game 3 in Pittsburgh. In that game, Lemieux had a hat trick and added three more assists.
But when Dino Ciccarelli scored four goals and the Caps routed the Pens 7-2 in Pittsburgh in Game 4 of the series—along with the Penguins' hopes of repeating as Stanley Cup champions—the series seemed as good as done.
But that is why they play the games.
The Pens beat the Caps 5-2 in Game 5 in Washington and went back to Pittsburgh with momentum. In Game 6, Mario Lemieux would show the world why he was the greatest player in the game at the time as he scored two goals, added three assists and the Pens evened the series with a rousing 6-4 win.
Heading back to Washington for Game 7, the ghosts of past playoff failures weighed heavily on the shoulders of the Caps. Haunted by lingering memories of such collapses as the "Easter Epic" the Caps folded badly under the pressure of another playoff collapse.
Lemieux would score a goal and add an assist and a very young Jaromir Jagr tacked on another goal as the Pens completed the stunning comeback with a 3-1 win in D.C.
The Penguins would go on to repeat as Stanley Cup champions and the Caps were left to try and figure out how things had unraveled so badly, so quickly.
In that 1992 series, Lemieux would end up with a total of seven goals and 10 assists.
In 1994, the Caps would get their only playoff series win over the Pens, eliminating Lemieux and the Pens in six games. Even so, Lemieux did all he could to prevent that from happening as he scored four goals and had three assists in the series.
When the Caps and Pens met in the 1995 playoffs. Lemieux was not there having taken the year off due to exhaustion and side effects that were the result of the radiation treatment he had undergone to treat his Hodgkin's lymphoma.
As such, Lemieux had no part—save for guiding them in spirit—in the Penguins rallying from a 3-1 series deficit against the Caps for the second time in three seasons.
Lemieux was back in 1996, 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. At the 19:15 mark of the fourth overtime, Petr Nedved would score to end the fifth longest overtime game in NHL playoff history and even the series up.
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 while the coaches for both teams nearly engage in a brawl of their own.
In Game 6, goals from Jagr, Ron Francis and Lemieux sealed the deal and the Pens had once again rallied from two games down in the series to defeat the Caps.
In that 1996 series, Lemieux would score two goals but would also add eight assists, four of them in Game 3 alone when the Pens absolutely needed the win.
Lemieux would stick it to the Caps once more in the 2001 playoffs scoring four goals and three assists as the Pens eliminated the Caps in six games. Lemieux was huge in Games 5 and 6.
In Game 5, with the series tied, it was Lemieux's first period goal that turned out to be the game winner.
In Game 6, Lemieux would score the first goal and he would play a key role in the Penguins' 4-3 overtime win that clinched the series.
For those keeping score, in five playoff series between the Capitals and Penguins over a 10 year period, Lemieux scored 19 goals and added 31 assists. He was the Caps' judge, jury and executioner on more occasions than I care to remember.
It would be extremely narrow minded of me, however, to not acknowledge what a great player Super Mario was. And he was one of the most courageous players of all time having endured cancer and several debilitating injuries that would have ended the careers of lesser men.
But when Lemieux finally retired in 2006, the damage he had done to the Washington Capitals franchise was pretty much irreversible.
You can try and argue against it but the evidence is pretty clear—Lemieux is the biggest villain in the history of the Washington Capitals.