STATESIDE: Another season of hurt for Washington fans

Steve Brenner 05:26 15/05/2017
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  • Move over Chicago – there’s a new curse doing the rounds.

    Seeing the Cubs extinguish 108 years of hurt and goat-infused paranoia saw the battered sporting souls of the Windy City unleash a huge collective sigh of relief.

    Everyone looked at Chicago baseball with a mix of sympathy and dark humour. Now, though, the jokes and tears are directly firmly towards Washington DC.

    The Wizards may have brilliantly kept their NBA playoff dream alive in dramatic fashion on Friday night, yet it was the NHL Game 7 defeat for the Capitals which really stung the country’s capital.

    A 2-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the reigning Stanley Cup champions, in the second round of the playoffs was a crushing blow and added to arguably the worst sporting Stateside stat right now: It is 66 combined seasons (NFL, NHL, NBA, MLB) since a team from DC reached a Conference Finals. And they are 1-for-86 in reaching the semi-final since 1992.

    With Cincinnati coming in quite a distant second with 43 , that’s one hell of an awful tally.

    While the last of the Redskins’ three Super Bowl wins came 25 years ago, at least there’s been some joy on a football field in amongst a series of car crash seasons since.

    No-one expects too much from the Wizards, even with John Wall firing. Their only championship came 39 years ago under the guise of the Washington Bullets.

    Over in the MLB, the Nationals, who used to be the Montreal Expos until their move in 2005, have never won a National League pennant let alone trodden the boards during the World Series.

    In 2012, the Nationals had the best record around but blew it at the start of the postseason despite being one win away from a first-round victory.

    It was more of the same last term, with a super-charged five-game series with the LA Dodgers not going their way.

    It’s on the ice, however, where hope has sprung eternal even if the franchise has just ONE Stanley Cup appearance since 1915 (defeat to the Detroit Red Wings in 1998).

    The arrival of Russian ace Alex Ovechkin 12 years ago was supposed to signal the start of a brand new era. Millions of dollars have filled his pockets, yet all it’s guaranteed is more heart-wrenching agony.

    Nine playoff appearances. Nine series shrouded in disappointment.

    There was hope that following an impressive campaign this season – the Caps boasted the best record in the NHL – 2017 would be their year.

    Just get past the Penguins and Sidney Crosby. Even when it went to a deciding match and with superstar Crosby sitting out with concussion, hopes were high.

    Well, they were until the buzzer sounded. Washington drew a blank, Ovechkin had a stinker before admitting he was playing with an injury which has ruled him out of the World Championships this summer.

    The Russian isn’t the player he was – in 82 games this campaign,he netted scored 33 goals with 36 assists. That’s two less in the assist department and 17 fewer goals than last year.

    Five goals and three set-ups in 13 postseason matches wasn’t too shabby, but, ultimately, not enough.

    Nevertheless, it was a rotten end to a promising season for a team hailed one of best for years.

    Ovechkin, at 32 years-old, is past his prime but with four years of a $10 million deal remaining, won’t be going anywhere fast. He remains popular with fans although, tellingly, some sections of the local media have begun to rip into their star turn.

    Standout players like TJ Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky were expected to have fired the Caps to glory, but will now look on as the rebuilding starts.

    New hopes. New dreams. Yet will reality bite once again?

    “As I said to everybody in the room, I hope you get this opportunity again,” said coach Barry Trotz. “You don’t know if you will. You don’t know if you’ll ever get back to the playoffs.”

    “When you lose the right to keep playing, when you’re in the playoffs and you feel that you can be a team that can do some damage, it always is a bitter pill to swallow.”

    Wizards: It’s over to you.

    No pressure.