Washington Capitals: Ten Reasons the Capitals Have Never Won a Stanley Cup
Many of you know the long and painful history of the Washington Capitals' postseason. You know about all of the blown leads and losses on home ice in the many game sevens.
In fact, if you are like me, then you are already preparing yourself for what lies ahead this postseason, if indeed there is one.
The Capitals have certainly had their chances to win Lord Stanley's Cup but have, for a lack of a better term, choked every time they find themselves on the cusp of something big.
It doesn't matter what era, it doesn't matter what players or coaches have been in the District, they all meet the same fate, a playoff exit before they can win 16 more games in April, May and now June.
From Bryan Muarry to Bruce Boudreau, from Mike Gartner to Alex Ovechkin and Rod Langway to Mike Green, poof..... gone, just like that and it always ends in the blink of an eye.
Washington has made 21 postseason trips in franchise history and has just one finals appearance to show for it, losing in four straight games to the Red Wings in 1998.
I began wondering why not us immediately following last year’s historic collapse in the first round against the Montreal Canadians.
I was ready to simply turn the situation over to the hockey gods and pray for mercy before I sat back and thought about the teams that failed and the reasons why.
I wondered if my hockey team, with all of the talent they have had over the years are just a snake bitten bad luck franchise come playoff time.
The answer is obviously a resounding no. There are many different reasons why the Capitals sail directly in to the perfect storm that is the playoffs every time they appear.
Here are ten reasons I believe the Washington Capitals have never won a Stanley Cup
The Limousine Incident
The Capitals managed to squeak into the playoffs with a record under .500 in the 1990 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Washington made the most of their good fortune in the postseason.
You could say the 1989-90 season was the exact opposite of the last season.
The team was talented despite struggling during the regular season and proved that by advancing to the Easter Conference Finals for the first time in team history. Although the Boston Bruins swept them things looked bright in D.C., as the Caps would come into the next season as favorites in the East.
All of that hope changed on Friday evening May 11, 1990. Four Washington Capitals including the team’s top two leading scorers, and the team's best defenseman were accused of sexually assaulting a 17-year-old girl in the back of a limousine behind a Georgetown nightclub.
Dino Ciccarelli, Geoff Courtnall, Neil Sheehy and Scott Stevens were accused of sexual assault and Caps fans, front office personnel and decent people in general were not happy. The case went to a grand jury with no charges filed but the damage was done.
That offseason Scott Stevens and Geoff Courtnall were gone to St. Louis, Neil Sheehy, the team’s enforcer disappeared from hockey for a year and two years later Ciccarelli was traded to Detroit.
That is a big chunk of talent gone in the blink of an eye and you can believe that the "limousine incident" of 1990 is a very valid reason the Capitals did not contend heavily for a Stanley Cup in the next few years following.
When hired as the General Manager of the Washington Capitals in 1982, David Poile was the youngest GM in the game at just 33-years old.
Poile had a solid 15 year run in Washington (594-454-124) but was never able to put a balanced enough playoff team together. He could never land the clutch performer the Capitals so desperately needed between the pipes and on the ice for the postseason.
Poile believed in defense and back in the mid to late 80's the NHL was a scoring league. Gretzky and Lemieux were scoring goals at a record pace and even defensemen were beginning to score goals like forwards on a regular basis.
The number two and three goals scorers in the NHL averaged 60 goals per season throughout the 80's. The Capitals highest goal scorers from 1982 through 1990 averaged just 43 goals per season.
Only twice did a Washington Capital score more than 50 goals during the highest scoring era in NHL history. That feat occurred in the same season when Bobby Carpenter (the can't miss kid) scored 53 and Mike Gartner scored 50.
Poile would not budge in trying to shift his philosophy from defense to offense, and the lack of offensive production killed Washington during their playoff runs of that era.
Poile's most controversial deal was not matching the offer sheet to perhaps the best defensive defenseman in the game at the time. The St. Louis Blues offered Scott Stevens a one million dollar contract and Poile failed to match, perhaps over the limousine incident.
The Caps received as compensation for their loss first round picks in 1991 through 1995. The players selected by the Capitals were Trevor Halverson, Sergei Gonchar, Brendan Witt, Nolan Baumgartner and Miika Elomo.
Many felt the deal was not worth it as Washington should have matched and kept Stevens. Many Caps fans watched in disgust as Stevens would go on to lead the New Jersey Devils stout defense to- two Stanley Cups.
There was also the drafting of the above-mentioned Bobby Carpenter. The first US born hockey player drafted in the first round right out of high school. Carpenter was drafted third overall in the 1981 entry draft and had his best season in 1984-85 when he scored 53 goals and added 42 helpers.
Carpenter was a bust in Washington, labeled as the "Can't Miss Kid" by Sports Illustrated, Carpenter had numerous run-ins with head coach Bryan Murray, and Poile traded him to the Rangers for Mike Ridley and Kelley Miller in 1986.
Poile is now working miracles with the Nashville Predators and still building through defense. In November 2010, Poile was listed as the best GM in hockey for the money by Forbes.com.
The Capitals have had solid goaltending throughout the years. Pete Peters, Don Beaupre, Mike Liut and Olaf Kolzig just name a few. While all of the above-mentioned goalies had stellar seasons along the way for the Caps none of them but Olaf Kolzig performed well in the post season for Washington.
They had a good game or two but nothing consistent over a whole series.
Only six goalies in franchise history have started ten or more playoff games for Washington. Beaupre, Peters, Liut, Kolzig, Jim Carey and now Semyon Varlamov.
Only Kolzig and Varlamov have a goal against under three. The average goals against for the rest of the net minders is a 3.16 with a save percentage under .900.
The Capitals had their best goaltending playoff years with Ollie the goalie and their worst under Beauprea and Liut. Neither Beauprea nor Liut was ever given a vote of confidence in the spring and at times, in the postseason, continued to platoon. That is never a good situation when trying to find a rhythm in the playoffs.
Kolzig was the hard luck loser of the bunch and is perhaps one of the best goalies never to win a Stanley Cup. Kolzig was 20-24 in 45 playoff games with 2.14 goals against and a .927 save percentage in the post season.
The Caps just never had the hot goaltender when they needed it in the postseason and on the rare occasions when they did, they could not give him any support.
The Murray Brothers
Bryan Murray and Terry Murray combined to coach the Capitals for 12 seasons, never once missing the playoffs, but never advancing all that far into them either.
In Bryan Murray's 17 year coaching career he has been to one Stanley Cup final, eliminated seven times in the first round and five times in round number two.
His Brother Terry has not fared much better. Terry has also been to one finals. He has been eliminated three times in the first round, two times in the second and lost once in a conference final. This in the span of a 13-year head-coaching career.
Do all of these playoff exits sound familiar, they should because with the Capitals, and when each left the Capitals, save for one magical season apiece of making a finals appearance their coaching careers have gone just as they did in Washington.
Decent regular seasons and squat in the playoffs.
Terry replaced Brian behind the bench in Washington after 46 games during the 89-90 season. Bryan was always in perfect rhythm with David Poile on the defensive side of the game and his brother Terry was, well I'm not sure but I know this, neither proved to be great in the clutch and apparently they still aren't.
Bryan did help build the Capitals into perennial playoff contenders but could not get over the hump of getting out of the Patrick Division when playoff time rolled around. Bryan liked to play head games with his players at times and it usually backfired.
Terry was more personable than his brother was but he started behind the eight ball because he was the brother of the guy the organization had just fired. I am not sure the players saw that big of a difference and there really wasn't, especially come playoff time.
Bryan is currently the GM of the struggling Ottawa Senators and Terry may actually have a shot this season as the head coach of the LA Kings. We will see come playoff time how legitimate that shot is.
As bad as some of the Caps goaltending has been at times in the postseason, is as good as some of the oppositions goalies have performed. Not to get all Bruce Boudreau on you but teams always seemed to bring the hot or hotter goalie.
From Billy Smith to Jirolsav Halak, the Caps seem to run into them come late spring.
Some of the best performances have come from the likes of Billy Smith, Kelly Hrudey, Tom Barrasso, Ken Wregget and the man pictured above, Ron Hextall. Hextall even scored a goal against the Caps in the playoffs.
The Caps have beaten some good goalies in the post season as well. Dominik Hasek and a few of those guys mentioned above, but never when it really counted in any series. Sure, they eliminated Hextall and Smith at times but only once in a deciding game five or seven, thank you Dale Hunter.
The best performance against Washington in four wins was ironically enough last season when Halak surrendered just five goals in four wins for the Montreal Canadians, before that the Boston Bruins Andy Moog shut them down in a four game sweep in the 1990 Eastern Conference finals. Moog surrendered just six goals in the four games.
The New York Islanders
Those five names on the banners pictured above did a number on the young Capitals of the mid to late 80's. Their experience come playoff time crippled Washington in the postseason.
The Capitals played the Islanders six times in postseason play, from 1982 through 1993, winning just one series. Four times the Caps entered a postseason series against the Isles having finished better in the regular season only to lose in the playoffs.
The Caps are 12-18 all time in the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the New York Islanders.
Memorable contests include, the Easter eve four overtime game seven thriller in which Pat Lafontaine scored at 1:56 Easter morning eliminating Washington once again. The Capitals dominated much of the game and the overtimes, out shooting New York 75-52.
In 1993, Dale Hunter in a deciding game six against the Isles and late in the third period,had the puck stolen from him by the Isles Pierre Turgeon.Turgeon converted the Hunter turnover into the Isles fifth goal and iced the game at that point, putting the Isles up 5-3.
Following the goal Hunter followed Turgeon into the corner as he was celebrating and checked him into the boards, separating his shoulder. Hunter was suspended by then new Commissioner Gary Bettman for 21 games to start the following season.
The suspension at the time was the longest ever on ice suspension for a player in NHL history.
Could Never Win a Big Game 7
Murphy starts the rush...He hits Hunter...He’s in alone, A shot, a goal, Caps Win! That was the call from Mike Fornes of Home Team Sports when Dale Hunter scored in overtime of game seven in the 1987 Patrick Division Semi-finals. The Hunter goal was the biggest in Caps history to date as they trailed the Flyers in the series 3-1.
Only one other time has Washington been able to overcome a 3-to-1 series deficit and win, in 2009 against the New York Rangers. It has been downhill every other time when a deciding game five or seven was needed in a Capitals playoff series.
The Capitals are just 2-7 all time in the final game of a series and eight times, they have led a series either 3-to-1 or 2-to-0 and lost. This spans three decades of Caps teams and seven head coaches in the process. There is no logical explanation for this unbelievably lopsided statistic.
Caps fans can only hope that somehow in the very near future Alex Ovechkin and company learns how to either win a game seven or finish a team off in four, five, or six games. For the record, The Great 8 is 1-and-3 in game sevens himself.
Big Time Goal Scorers Failed To Step Up at Crucial Times
Many hockey experts will tell you that any team that wins a Stanley Cup usually has two things that happened to them. Their goalie got hot and so did a goal scorer.
It is not a must to have both happen but it is a good bet you could go back in the history books and find one of each on just about every Stanley Cup Champion.
We already covered the goaltending side of this equation so let us look at the goal scorers.
The Capitals have had their share of prolific regular season goal scorers throughout the years. Mike Gartner, Dino Ciccarelli, Peter Bondra and now Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin has proved to be a decent playoff goal scorer, 20 goals in 28 games and Ciccarelli made his contributions as well scoring 21 goals in 42 career playoffs games with Washington but neither ever really put their team on their backs and carried them the John Druce did in the 1990 playoffs for the Capitals.
During the 1990 run to the Eastern Conference finals John Druce, a minor league call-up from the Baltimore Skipjacks of the AHL scored some big goals propelling the Capitals through the playoffs. Druce scored 16 career playoff goals in 34 postseason games for Washington and 14 of them came in the 1990 playoffs.
Mike Gartner and Peter Bondra combined to score 865 regular season goals for Washington. In the playoffs, they combined to score 46 goals in 126 games. Gartner scored just 16 post-season goals as a Washington Capital in 50 career playoffs games.
Gartner and Bondra just disappeared during the post season and no one to this day still knows why.
Big time players make big time plays in big time games, so maybe Alex Ovechkin is saving it all up for April, May, and hopefully June this year.
The 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings
It is fair to put the Red Wings in this slide show simply because they are the team that beat the Capitals in their only Stanley Cup appearance. Many Caps fans, me included, knew we were heavy underdogs headed in but figured after all of the years of heartbreak this could be the season.
The Capitals were seemingly on a roll, everything that could go right did in that post season. Washington had the hot goaltender in Olaf Kolzig, 1.95 goals against and a .941 save percentage in 21 games.
Washington was 12-5 in three playoff series leading up to the Stanley Cup Finals. They even knocked the best goalie in the world out of the playoffs, frustrating Dominik Hasek in a six game series victory.
The Capitals had even won five overtime games in three series, including game six against Buffalo in the Eastern Conference finals. Joe Juneau had now scored the biggest goal in Capitals history and it was off to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time franchise history.
Then came the buzz saw that was the Detroit Red Wings. There was still hope because Detroit was 12-6 through three series and it seemed like fate that it was Washington's year.
Just like that, it was over. A four game sweep that ended in DC but at least Caps fans were able to see the Stanley Cup in the new downtown arena, something we had never seen in 21 heartbreaking seasons at the Capital Center in Landover Maryland.
I Hate To Do This But the #1 Reason Has To Be the Pittsburgh Penguins
Yes, Caps fans the Pittsburgh Penguins are the number one reason we have never won a Stanley Cup. In eight postseason series matchups, the Capitals are 1-7, with an overall record of 19-30 versus the ugly little black and white fish eating birds. Four times the Caps have led in the series either 3-1 or 2-0 and lost.
The only playoff victory came in 1994 when Washington ousted Pittsburgh in six games. Every year, in which Pittsburgh has won a Stanley Cup, they have disposed of Washington on the way to winning the prize, including two years ago when Alex Ovechkin and company led that series 2-0.
During the Penguins 1992 Cup season, the Capitals had them down three games to one in the first round of the playoffs. Pittsburgh would score 14 goals combined in the next three games to come back and win the series.
Then of course, there was the second four-overtime loss in Washington's playoff history. Petr Nedved ended that affair but that was another game in which the Caps had every chance to win. Mario Lemieux was ejected in the second period for fighting and Pittsburgh was using a backup Ken Wregget because starter Tom Barasso left with back spasms. None of it mattered, as it never seems to matter when the Capitals are in the postseason.
We are teased every so often, like in 1987 or 1998 but for the most part the heartache continues in DC. It is likely that this group of Capitals, minus the coach, should win a Cup but we have thought that before.
The Capitals must change their sorry post season past. So far this season it does not look promising.