man Oliver Ekman-Larsson as he heads into the last year of his contract.
Jimmy Patterson was a fresh-faced 22-year-old in the stands at the old Capital Centre in October 1974 when the expansion Washington Capitals won for the first time.
As he was leaving Marcus Mariota Jersey Big
, an elderly man from Brooklyn told Patterson he’d always get to say he saw the Capitals’ first win. The man smiled and added, ”You can’t lose ’em all.”
Forty-plus years, more than 3,000 games and 27 unsuccessful playoff runs later, Patterson and legions of longtime Capitals fans finally have a reason to believe that. Many who watched Wednesday night at an arena watch party far from Game 7 in Tampa Bay took to the steps of the National Portrait Gallery to celebrate the Capitals’ first trip to the Stanley Cup Final since 1998. Game 1 in Las Vegas against the Golden Knights is Monday night.
”It’s been really gratifying,” said Patterson, now 65. ”It feels a lot different, and it’s a weird feeling.”
Filling the area, fans chanted, ”We want the Cup,” ”We want Vegas” and ”DC! DC!” in an outpouring of joy decades and crushing losses in the making. Alex Ovechkin’s Capitals are the first Washington team in the major four professional sports leagues to reach the final in a generation. To get this far, they had to not only outlast the Lightning but survive longtime playoff nemesis Pittsburgh, which has won the last two championships.
”It’s been 20 long, dry years and we are back,” Capitals public address announcer Wes Johnson said. ”This is catharsis. Once we beat the Penguins, then you could see that the fan base was like, `Let’s just play hockey.’ As John Walton said, it’s OK to believe. It’s not just OK to believe. Just believe.”
Among markets with teams in the NFL Bradley Pinion Jersey
, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball, only the Twin Cities in Minnesota has a longer championship drought going than Washington. The Redskins won their third Super Bowl title in January 1992 and it’s been mostly grim since then. None of the Redskins, Wizards, Nationals and Capitals even reached a league semifinal from 1998 until this spring.
In that same time, Boston’s teams have made 25 league semifinal appearances and won 10 titles. Maybe success is contagious.
”Last year all of those (other Washington) teams made the playoffs and then it was like, hey we got to do the same too, and we dropped the ball,” Redskins running back Chris Thompson said. ”If you see your D.C. teams succeeding and the Capitals now (in) the finals and stuff like that, it’s a little bit of motivation.”
The Capitals got over the hump in their 10th playoff appearance after early exits marred by sudden-death overtime winners, a hot goaltender named Jaroslav Halak, the New York Rangers and – of course – the Penguins.
”It’s just been one nightmare after another,” said Anthony Beverina, who has had season tickets in section 417 since 1997-98. ”And it makes you wonder if there’s some inherit either cosmic conspiracy or a core character issue in the core guys.”
The nightmare has slowly felt like a dream on this playoff run, which was unexpected following an offseason of salary-cap casualties in the wake of another crushing second-round loss to Pittsburgh. Players rallied around lower preseason expectations, and even going into the playoffs Washington wasn’t supposed to do this.
”This team is so fun,” said George Christo, a Boston transplant who has had season tickets since 1995-96. ”This team is the most fun since that ’98 team primarily because Authentic Derek Forbort Jersey Kids
, both of those teams, who on earth expected either of these teams to be able to get this deep and to be that tough?”
After so many early playoff exits, Capitals fans are reluctant to feel too good about things. Christo said even his children have almost gotten sick of going to games -until this year, which has challenged a lot of the old conventions about doomsday D.C. sports.
”There are people sitting in season-ticket-holder seats because they’re home mashing teeth and biting their fingernails,” Patterson said. ”A lot of fans around the country when their team is in the playoffs, they like to have get-togethers and parties, viewing parties for the away games and stuff like that. But if you’ve been through some of this stuff, after the second game of a playoff series, there won’t be any of that because you can’t have your friends over and watch a game and then have everybody in that awful mood when it’s over and they’re shaking hands and you’re on the losing side.”
It was the opposite Wednesday night when almost 10,000 people wearing red watched on video screens above a basketball court as Capitals players and coaches were on the winning side of their handshake line with the Lightning. Cheers greeted Ovechkin touching the Prince of Wales Trophy and then the flash of the Stanley Cup Final schedule before the series against former general manager George McPhee’s Vegas Golden Knights begins.
”We’re going to the Stanley Cup Final,” Ovechkin said. ”I think everybody is happy, but we still have unfinished, you know what I mean. I don’t know, I’m emotional right now. I think we’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time.”
Game 3 on June 2 will be the first Cup Final game in the district since 1998, when the Capitals were swept by the Detroit Red Wings. One more win will make this the most successful season in franchise history, and though superstition and history keeps fans from thinking about the ”what if” of four more, they’re no l The Arizona Coyotes were one of the NHL’s best teams the final two months of the 2017-18 season, playing the kind of hockey coach Rick Tocchet envisioned his first season in the desert.
If only they had started rolling a few months earlier.
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, the Coyotes finished last in the Western Conference and missed the playoffs for the sixth straight season, yet they have a glimmer of hope for the future thanks to their flourish to the finish.
”There’s a lot of good positive things and we just have to keep pushing the pedal. We can’t stand pat,” Tocchet said. ”We can’t pat ourselves on the back, `Hey, we had a great second half.’ We’re still one of the bottom teams, which is reality, but saying that I thought we made a lot of strides.”
The Coyotes made dramatic changes in hopes of ending their postseason-less run. Arizona parted ways with coach Dave Tippett and replaced him with Tocchet. Longtime captain Shane Doan’s contract was not renewed, No. 1 goalie Mike Smith was traded to Calgary and the Coyotes brought in a new group of players they hoped would lead the franchise out of its rut.
Antti Raanta became the new top goalie, defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson was added to shore up the defense and Derek Stepan was expected to be the top-line center the team had sought for years.
Little went according to plan. Raanta missed the first seven games with a lower-body injury and the Coyotes had trouble holding on to leads – when they could get them – and opened the season 1-12-1. Arizona could not escape the deep early hole, laboring at the bottom of the NHL standings throughout the first half of the season.
The Coyotes started to click after the All-Star break. Raanta was healthy and stopping shots. The defense, a detriment early, tightened up. The offense, led by a core of young scorers, started to flow instead of sputter.
Arizona went 17-9-3 over its final 29 games, finishing 29-41-12 with 70 points. The Coyotes were still last in the Pacific Division, but managed to finish ahead of Ottawa and Buffalo among the league’s bottom dwellers.
”I’ve got all the confidence in this group,” said Stepan, who had 14 goals and was second on the team with 56 points. ”They’ve learned a lot this season and you’ve got to be able to carry that over into next season and continue to learn Zach Hyman Jersey
, and the older guys got to learn from the younger guys. It’s got to be a balanced group.”
RAANTA’S RIDE: Raanta had a rough ride his first season as a No. 1 goalie, battling through separate injuries. Once he was healthy, the Finnish goalie played like the Coyotes had hoped he would after trading for him from the New York Rangers.
Raanta finished the season 21-17-6 with a 2.24 goals-against average and a save percentage of .930. He was scheduled to become a restricted free agent this offseason, but the Coyotes locked him up for the next three years with a $12.75 million contract just before the season ended.
”He stops the puck,” Coyotes GM John Chayka said. ”He just seems to, when he’s on, he’s locked in and he’s reading everything and making the game look easy. You put up his numbers both this season and over his career, he’s a high, high-end goaltender in terms of stopping the puck.”
KELLER’S RISE: Clayton Keller got his rookie season off to a sizzling start, went through a dry scoring spell and finished strong to put himself in the Calder Trophy conversation.
The No. 7 overall pick in the 2016 draft was the NHL’s leading rookie scorer during the season’s first month with nine goals and 15 assists before going 17 games without a goal into December. Keller closed strong with six goals and 15 assists in March and April, finishing with 23 goals and 65 points to lead the Coyotes in both categories.
SIGNING OEL: One of the Coyotes’ top offseason priorities will be trying to sign All-Star defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson as he heads into the last year of his contract.
Once thought to be a trade target during Arizona’s rebuilding process, the Finnish defenseman remained a core player for the Coyotes, finishing fourth on the team with 42 points. He wants to stay in the desert and the Coyotes want him, so it’s a matter of coming to terms.
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