As summer has just ended, NHL training camps are just around the corner. It's no different in Washington, where the Capitals look to redeem themselves after last season's bitterly disappointing seven game loss to Montreal in the Quarterfinals. While the Capitals have fallen short of expectations in the postseason, they have become the darling of professional sports in the nation's capital over the last three years.
From the time in 2001 when the Capitals acquired Jaromir Jagr up until November 22, 2007 (the day Bruce Boudreau was hired as head coach), the Capitals were a disaster. Their attendance, even with the most exciting player in the game on the ice, was among the league's worst.
The team also lagged far behind the Washington Redskins and Washington Wizards in fan support, and their four straight seasons of missing the playoffs did not help the situation.
However, since that day in November, the Capitals have become a Stanley Cup contender, winning three straight division championships and a President's Trophy as the league's best regular season team in 2009-10. Their players are young, energetic, and charismatic who seemingly grew up in front of the team's ever-growing fanbase.
These fans watched Mike Green, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alexander Semin blossom into elite NHL players, and have been witnesses as Alexander Ovechkin has taken the sport by storm.
The other Washington sports teams? Gilbert Arenas' gun charges and trial put a dark cloud over the Wizards until the arrival of John Wall. The 'Nats, while briefly enjoying the success of and buzz surrounding Steven Strasburg, have chalked up another losing season. And the city's beloved Redskins? While the arrival of Donovan McNabb was an encouraging step towards respectability, the selfishness of Albert Haynesworth has been an enormous disappointment.
The fans, invigorated by the team's success have embraced the 'Caps, and have been "Rocking the Red" at Verizon Center like never before. What only the Capitals can offer sports fans in D.C. is genuine hope. While they fell short last season, the reason why the result was so disappointing was because there was a belief within the organization and city that 2010 was the year for the 'Caps.
This season comes with increased pressure on the 'Caps, with the goal of the Stanley Cup seemingly within their reach. However, what brings fans back is the reason to believe in this Capitals team. The players care about their city and their fans, and in return, the Capitals are slowly becoming Washington's team.
After the heartbreaking loss to the Canadiens in Game 7, what was Brooks Laich doing? Helping a stranded motorist, who happened to be a Capitals fan driving home from the game, and solidifying his near-cult figure status in D.C.
Ovechkin, Backstrom, and co. offer the city a chance to be a part of something special, as they continue on in their quest to bring Washington the franchise's first championship. Whether they do it or not this year is another question in itself, but they know they will have an entire city's attention and support every step of the way.