Ranking the 5 Most Unbelievable Moments in Washington Capitals History

Dave Ungar@@DaveUngar68Correspondent IIIAugust 14, 2013

Ranking the 5 Most Unbelievable Moments in Washington Capitals History

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    As the Washington Capitals get set to embark upon their 39th campaign in the NHL, it is time to reflect on some of the prior seasons and the truly unbelievable moments that have transpired.

    The Caps have had their share of incredible and unbelievable moments. Some of them have been exhilarating and exciting.

    Others have been truly heartbreaking where all a fan can do is shake his or her head in disbelief.

    The Caps have rallied from a 3-1 series deficit in the playoffs—but they have blown a similar lead on numerous occasions.

    They have lost a four overtime game twice.

    They have pulled off stunning upsets yet been the victim of shocking upsets, too.

    With the Caps moving to a new division this season—and reigniting old rivalries with familiar foes—more unbelievable moments are sure to take place.

    Here, then, are the top five most unbelievable moments involving the Washington Capitals so far.

5. The 2007-08 Run to the Playoffs

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    For fans of the Washington Capitals who have just come onto the scene since Alexander Ovechkin arrived, it was probably the 2007-08 season—and the incredible run the Caps went on during that season—that probably made them fans in the first place.

    The Caps had gone through some rather rough times leading into the 2007-08 season. The team had failed to become a Stanley Cup contender by signing established veterans like Jaromir Jagr and Robert Lang. They also endured the fire sale that took place in 2004.

    Ovechkin was drafted No. 1 overall in the 2004 NHL draft and was immediately dominant once he debuted during the 2005-06 season. As great as Ovi was though, this did not translate into success for the Caps as a team.

    The Caps would finish dead last in the Southeast division in Ovechkin's first two seasons in the NHL. When the Caps started the 2007-08 season with a 6-14-1 record, it looked like more of the same old thing.

    But coach Glen Hanlon was fired, Bruce Boudreau was brought in—and everything changed.

    It sure did not seem possible at the time. The Caps were dead last in the Eastern Conference when the coaching change was made. At midseason, the Caps were in 14th place in the Eastern Conference.

    No team had ever made the playoffs when being in 14th place or lower at the mid-point of the season.

    By January 19, the Caps got to the .500 mark with a 5-3 win over the Florida Panthers. The Caps continued to win at a healthy clip but the odds of them catching the Carolina Hurricanes for the Southeast division title seemed very dim.

    On March 12, the Caps would begin an unbelievable run that would result in them capturing the division for the first time since 2000-01.

    The Caps would win 11 of their final 12 games—including their final seven in a row—to catch and pass the Canes for the divisional title. Along the way, the Caps would beat Carolina twice, showing that the team could handle pressure quite well, even though they were a very young bunch.

    The Caps had to win their final game of the season to win the division and they responded with a 3-1 home win over the Panthers. It was an incredible end to an unbelievable run to the playoffs by a team that was just coming into their own.

    The Caps would fall to the Philadelphia Flyers in a tremendous seven game Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series. But that did not take anything away from the absolutely incredible tear the Caps went on to get to the playoffs in the first place.

4. Dale Hunter's Goal

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    Anyone who has been a Caps fan for any length of time is very familiar with Dale Hunter's goal in overtime of Game 7 of the Caps 1988 Patrick Division Semifinal series against the Philadelphia Flyers.

    It is, after all, one of the most iconic goals in Caps history.

    What made the moment so unbelievable, though, is everything that had transpired up to that moment.

    Up until Hunter's goal, the Caps had known nothing but heartbreak and disappointment in the playoffs.

    The Caps had been to the playoffs five consecutive seasons leading up to the 1988 playoffs. Unfortunately for the Caps, they ran into the New York Islanders repeatedly during this time frame.

    In the 1985 playoffs, the Caps became the first team to blow a 2-0 series lead and lose a best-of-five series as the Isles rallied for the series win.

    The next season, the Caps seemed to exercise those demons as they swept the Islanders out of the playoffs. But then the other team from New York, the Rangers, would upset the Caps in six games.

    The following season would see the Caps again play the Islanders. The Caps would storm out to a 3-1 series lead only to watch the Islanders once again rally from a big series deficit. The Islanders would force a Game 7.

    That Game 7 would go down in history as one of the true epics, a four overtime classic won by the Islanders early on Easter morning. The game has come to be known as the Easter Epic.

    The following season, the Caps met the Flyers in the opening round of the playoffs. The low point in the series came in Game 4 when the Caps blew a 4-1 lead in the third period, lost in overtime and found themselves on the wrong end of a 3-1 series deficit.

    What made Hunter's goal all the more unbelievable is how the Caps responded. In the past, the team had always crumbled in the face of adversity. This time though, the Caps won Game 5 by the score of 5-2 and then routed the Flyers 7-2 in Philly in Game 6.

    That set the stage for yet another Game 7 for the Caps.

    Unbelievably, the Caps fell behind 3-0 in Game 7. Equally incredible, they came back to tie the game and, yet again, the Caps had to go into overtime, on home ice, in a Game 7.

    Almost one year to the day of the Easter Epic, Hunter's goal about six minutes into overtime capped a remarkable comeback by Washington. It remains one of the biggest goals in the history of the franchise—and one of the more unbelievable moments in Capitals history.

3. The Montreal Meltdown

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    I feel this article would lose all credibility if it only focused on the cheerful of the most unbelievable moments involving the Washington Capitals.

    Let's face it Caps fans: The past 39 years have held more tragedy than triumph for our boys.

    The Caps have had so many playoff failures that it is hard to pick just one as the most heartbreaking.

    We already talked about the multiple disasters against the New York Islanders.

    The Pittsburgh Penguins are another level of a nightmare altogether for the Caps as Washington has lost seven of the eight playoff series against the Pens, including blowing a 3-1 series lead twice and blowing a 2-0 series lead twice more.

    As for pure unbelievability, nothing can top what happened in the 2010 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. I am not sure if I have invented this phrase—I kind of doubt it—but it is something I call The Montreal Meltdown.

    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.

    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.

    At that point the entire series was already bordering on unbelievable. Game 7, however, was another realm of incredulity entirely.

    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—but 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—and having to endure one of the biggest upsets in NHL playoff history—is, unfortunately, one of the most unbelievable moments in the history of the Washington Capitals.

2. Joel Ward Sinks the Champs

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    There are many similarities between Joel Ward's overtime win in Game 7 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Boston Bruins and Dale Hunter's goal that eliminated the Philadelphia Flyers 24 years earlier.

    Both goals took place in Game 7. Both goals were scored in overtime. Both goals were as dramatic a moment as any Caps fan could hope for. The two goals are two of the most iconic in the history of the Capitals.

    Still, there are a few reasons why I rank Ward's goal scores higher on the unbelievability scale than Hunter's.

    One reason is that unlike Hunter's goal, Ward's took place on the road, in the very unfriendly confines of the TD Garden in Boston.

    Another reason is that the Caps were huge underdogs against the Bruins in that series. The Bruins were the defending Stanley Cup champions and the No. 2 overall seed in the Eastern Conference. The Caps had struggled for much of the season and were the No. 7 seed.

    In net, the Caps had untested rookie goalie Braden Holtby going up against the defending Conn Smythe winner, Tim Thomas.

    Very few people gave the Caps much of a chance in the series. The Bruins were better, were deeper and were just too talented for the Caps. Only a few delusional people (such as yours truly) gave the Caps a chance and even then it was nothing more than a puncher's chance.

    But when you go back and look at how that series went down, then Ward's goal has to rank a bit higher than Hunter's. We are talking about the only NHL playoff series—in the history of the NHL—where all seven games were decided by just one goal.

    The Caps, notorious for failing in overtime games in the past, actually won a double overtime game in Game 2 to tie the series.

    They then took an incredible 3-2 series lead back to Washington for Game 6. When the Caps lost in overtime though, all those old and familiar playoff ghosts materialized. Surely, the Caps would find a way to lose yet again.

    But the Caps would score first and hope was kindled. That hope would fade when Boston tied things up. Then in the third period, Alexander Ovechkin was robbed of a goal—by Dennis Seidenberg and not Thomas—and you just felt like the Gods of Fate would once again smile on the other team.

    That was what made Ward's goal such an unbelievable moment. At the exact moment where you just knew things were going to fall apart, they went 180 degrees in the opposite direction.

    A fortuitous blocked shot, a great rush down ice by Mike Knuble and a brilliant backhand shot by Ward gave the Caps a shocking overtime victory in Game 7 and, in so doing, gave us the No. 2 most unbelievable moment in the history of the franchise.

1. Joe Juneau Sends the Caps to the Stanley Cup Finals

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    When a team and franchise have been to the Stanley Cup Finals just once in their 39 year history, it stands to reason that the goal that got them there would rank as the biggest in franchise history—and also as the most unbelievable moment in team history.

    Such is the case with Joe Juneau's goal in Game 6 of the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals against the Buffalo Sabres.

    The Caps' entire playoff run in 1998 was rather unbelievable.

    The Caps were notorious for failing in overtime in the playoffs leading into the 1998 tournament. When the Caps lost to the Boston Bruins in double overtime in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series, at home no less, it sure seemed like the same old song and dance.

    But the Caps would win Game 3 in double overtime, in Boston, and then would clinch the series in overtime in Game 6, again in Boston, ensuring the team would not blow a 3-1 series lead yet again.

    When the Caps steamrolled the Ottawa Senators in five games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, people took notice.

    Still, the Caps were the No. 4 overall seed. They were nothing special and nothing had been expected of them. So when they met the No. 6 seeded Buffalo Sabres in the Eastern Conference Finals, no one was sure what to expect.

    Ultimately the Caps, who had the most experience of any team in the playoffs, would prevail.

    The Caps continued their improbable overtime success winning Games 2 and 3 in overtime. When Olaf Kolzig outplayed the great Dominik Hasek and blanked the Sabres 2-0 in Game 4, the Caps had a 3-1 series lead and stood just one win from, at long last, getting to the Stanley Cup Finals.

    When the Sabres beat the Caps in Washington in Game 5 by the score of 2-1, all those nasty old ghosts of past playoff disasters came rushing back.

    Game 6, in Buffalo, was not looking so good for the Caps as they trailed 2-1 late in the third period. But Peter Bondra would rescue the Caps, scoring on a power-play goal with just under six minutes remaining in regulation. Once again, the fate of the Caps' season would be decided in overtime.

    In overtime, Kolzig would make a huge save on a breakaway by Buffalo's Vaclav Varada—and that set the stage for the biggest goal in Capitals history.

    It came at the 6:24 mark of overtime. Brian Bellows, who had been such an integral part of the Caps' improbable playoff run, got the puck to the front of the net. Joe Juneau was there to bang home the  loose puck and the Caps were finally heading to the Stanley Cup Finals.

    Things did not end well once the Caps got there as they were swept by the defending champions, the Detroit Red Wings. Nevertheless, Juneau's dramatic overtime goal capped an unbelievable playoff run by the Caps and sent the Caps to their only Stanley Cup Final appearance so far.

    Pretty unbelievable stuff indeed.