There’s a chant you hear plenty of times at the Verizon Center from thousands of fans decked in red attire — C-A-P-S. CAPS! CAPS! CAPS!
The Washington Capitals, otherwise known as the “Caps”, are historically notorious for their postseason meltdowns rather than success.
For the pessimistic, and haters of the Nation’s Capital hockey team, “Caps” also stands for “Can’t Advance Past Second round”.
And as sad as that may sound in the ears of repetitively heartbroken Capitals fans, it’s true.
In their 41 years as a franchise (now 42nd), they’ve qualified for the playoffs 25 times — only twice, 1990 and 1998, have they advanced past the second round.
That’s music, however, to New York, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh admirers. Out of the 23 times the Capitals have been bounced in the first two rounds, 20 came from either the New York Islanders (five times), New York Rangers (five), Philadelphia Flyers (three), or Pittsburgh Penguins (seven).
For moral support and rafter fillers, you’ll find a Presidents Trophy banner (given to team with the best regular season record), a conference championship banner, and eight division championship banners.
But nothing associated with the Stanley Cup hangs atop the Verizon Center.
Coming off a 2015-2016 regular season that featured 56 wins, most in franchise history, and a second President’s Trophy (like D.C. fans care about that at this point), the time is now for the Capitals to rewrite history books that are stuffed with underwhelming results.
“Everybody knows that this may the last chance to be such a good team and (have) such a good chance to win,” Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin said during an ESPN interview. “So it’s very important for everybody to realize, maybe next year, we aren’t going to have the same group of guys and the same good team to get a chance to win a (Stanley) Cup.”
Ovechkin, who will go down as arguably the greatest player ever to wear a Capitals jersey, has accomplished practically everything, but a Stanley Cup.
Seven all-star appearances, the league leader in goals six times, an Art Rose Trophy, three MVP’s, and a cluster of other accolades that’s too many to list.
His 525 goals and 966 points in the regular season puts him first all-time in the franchise, and in the history of Russian-born NHLers. If you want to get technical, he’s yet to win an Olympic gold medal for his home country.
Since bursting onto the scene in 2005 (drafted with the No. 1 overall pick in 2004, but due to an NHL lockout, he played in the KHL that year), the Capitals have compiled a 460-297-110 regular season record. They also have nine straight winning seasons dating back to 2007.
But no matter how much you sugarcoat it, the horrid playoff stench still clouds above The District.
“The ultimate goal is a Stanley Cup, obviously,” Ovechkin said, who holds a 38-40 playoff record. “It doesn’t matter how well you play during the regular (season). It’s all about the playoffs. Nobody remembers who’s second place.”
Or as Ricky Bobby would put it, “if ya ain’t first, you’re last.”
He’s no longer a 20 year old prodigy. He’s a 30 year old seasoned veteran.
As Ovechkin, continues ahead on the back nine of his hockey career, he knows the window of opportunity that leads to the promise land is dwindling.
His mother, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in basketball, once taught him when an athlete reaches the age of 30, they are at their peak.
Unlike years in the past, the Capitals have the near perfect balance of maturity and flamboyant super-stardom, complimented by awe-important role play.
Their head coach, Barry Trotz, has nearly 1,500 games on his ledger. To take the offensive load off Ovechkin, they traded for T.J. Oshie, a 26 goal scorer, most by a Capital other than the Great Eight since 2011.
They’ve signed deals with former Stanley Cup winners Brooks Orpik, Justin Williams, and Mike Richards.
Braden Holtby is campaigning one of the most decorated seasons by a goaltender since the great Martin Broduer — a .922 save percentage and 2.20 goals allowed per game, both ranking second in the regular season — his 48 wins were tied for an NHL record.
Nicklas Backstrom, the franchises all-time assist leader, is 28 and in his ninth year. Ovechkin is in his 10th. The rest of the core, Holtby, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Matt Niskanan, and Marcus Johannson are all in the back-end of their 20s.
To go along with such experience is a new wave of talent. Evgeny Kuznetsov, 23, became Ovechkin’s first teammate ever to top him in points (77 to 71). Tom Wilson, 22, provides an old-school grit with a mean hip-check. Dmitry Orlov, 24, and Andre Burakovsky, 21, see significant minutes.
If it’s going to be the year, not only for Ovechkin, but for the Capitals, it’s this one.
On Thursday night, the Capitals will take the ice against the Penguins, a team that has owned them in the playoffs — knocking them out in the second round seven times. Oh, and did I tell you, it’s a second round match-up? (remember Can’t Advance Past Second round).
That’s history. This is now. And I can assure you this year could have a different ending.
When the Capitals drafted Ovechkin 12 years ago, the Cloud Nine script for an eluded Stanley Cup seemed inevitably set in stone. Twelve years later, the thought-to-be-fairy-tale of the Great Eight has reached the back-end of its climax, and fans are still agonizingly waiting for the finale.
The reel of time is spinning so quickly that if history repeats itself, Washington may be wallowing in a haunted nightmare, shipwrecked on the sands of deserted fate. For now, and like the previous 41 years, one must wait to see if this is finally it.