Washington Capitals bring nation's capital the title city was yearning for

Jay Asser 8/06/2018
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Washington fans cheer during Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Washington D.C. is the nation’s capital, but the shortcomings of the city’s teams over the years have kept it from being anything close to a sports capital.

While fellow east coast elites like Boston and New York vacuumed up championships, and other major markets like Los Angeles and Chicago won their fair share, the District of Columbia was unable to break away from a constant state of disappointment.

Until now. Washington is again a city of champions as the Capitals, fittingly the area’s most frustrating team, delivered D.C.’s first title since 1992 by lifting the Stanley Cup.

Between Washington’s four major sports teams – in the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL – it had been 71 combined seasons since the last D.C. franchise even reached the championship game or series. The Capitals not only got there, they overcame the Vegas Golden Knights fairytale to break through.

‘Our year’ was this year. There was no collapse this time after going up 3-1 in a series. The other shoe never dropped. It may still feel surreal to Capitals fans, but yes, they actually did it.

The disappointment and apathy is gone. The only feeling Washington sports are inspiring today is pure, unadulterated happiness. And the city needed it.

There are only 13 cities in the U.S. that have teams represented in all four major sports leagues, and of those 13, only Washington and Minnesota hadn’t celebrated at least one title since the turn of the century before Thursday.

It’s not as if D.C.’s teams hadn’t come close, which is in a way even more painful because it’s the hope that kills you in the end. And none of Washington’s franchises have inspired more hope, only to subsequently crush it, than the Capitals.

Washington’s NFL side were actually the team to bring home that title in 1992, but since then they’ve made the playoffs just five times, failing to get out of the second round on each occasion.

In the NBA, the Wizards have similarly failed to clear the hurdle that is the second round, falling short of the conference finals in their last 16 postseason appearances.

The Nationals, meanwhile, somewhat mercifully have a shorter history in MLB after moving from Montreal in 2005, which means they’ve only been able to lose the Division Series the four times they’ve reached the playoffs.

The Capitals weren’t much different as they fell in the second round in their previous 12 trips, but the sheer volume of their playoff appearances – no team in any of the four major leagues had as many playoff visits before winning a title – left Washington fans feeling numb.

Throw on top of that how the Capitals have crashed out season after season, including five blown 3-1 series leads – more than any team across the four major leagues – and you begin to understand just how much disappointment the nation’s capital has had to cope with.

But all of that feels like ancient history now. The Capitals have exorcised their demons, and with it the city’s as a whole, in cathartic fashion, appropriately capped with a third-period comeback in Game 5 to squash any chance of another season ending in heartbreak.

Alex Ovechkin is no longer one of the greatest players who never reached the top of the mountain. It took him 13 seasons – the second-longest wait for an MVP in any sport before winning a title – but he got there. He’s no longer stranded with Barry Bonds in the exclusive, but undesirable club of players to win at least three MVPs but never a championship.

In a stroke of serendipity, the Capitals won the Stanley Cup in Las Vegas, allowing Ovechkin and his teammates to paint ‘Sin City’ red for the coming days or even weeks. Back in Washington, the party will rage on as the city savours an accomplishment that has eluded them for so long and so maddeningly.

It’s here now though. The District of Columbia is finally the District of Champions.

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Five players who were most vital to the Washington Capitals' run to Stanley Cup champions

Jay Asser 8/06/2018
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Alex Ovechkin finally has a Stanley Cup title to his name.

The Washington Capitals are Stanley Cup champions after finishing off the Vegas Golden Knights with a 4-3 win in Game 5.

Several players were key to the Washington Capitals’ Stanley Cup run, but five in particular stand out for their contributions.

Alex Ovechkin

It goes without saying, but the Capitals’ captain has been instrumental to the team’s success since the moment he arrived on the scene. After coming into the postseason with an unfair reputation as a star who underwhelms on the biggest stage, Ovechkin proved his naysayers wrong with a playoff run that featured a league-leading 15 goals, including six on the power play, to earn the Conn Smythe Trophy. It took 13 seasons, but Ovechkin has finally reached the sport’s summit.

Evgeny Kuznetsov

Ovechkin ended up with the Conn Smythe Trophy, but it could have just as easily gone to Kuznetsov, who perfectly complements his captain’s shooting with exceptional vision and playmaking. The 26-year-old Russian forward finished the playoffs with 12 goals and 20 assists for a league-leading 32 points. For comparison, only Evgeni Malkin has more points (36 in 2009) than Kuznetsov in a postseason since the turn of the century. Without his ability to set up teammates, there would be no Cup.

Nicklas Backstrom

It’s been a long wait for the Cup for Backstrom as well, with the Swede having felt the pain of falling short year after year alongside Ovechkin since the two became teammates in 2007. Though he played almost half the playoffs with a hand injury, Backstrom was still effective on the ice, racking up five goals and 18 assists for 23 points. His smooth playmaking was especially lethal on the power play, where he tallied a playoff-high 13 assists.

John Carlson

While Ovechkin, Kuznetsov and Backstorm will rightly get much of the attention for the Capitals’ run, Carlson’s significance can’t be overlooked. The defenseman had 12 of his 20 playoff points on the power play, while recording a plus-minus of plus-11, which was second among all players at his position. It’s no coincidence Carlson’s breakout year aligned with Washington lifting the Cup and now, he’ll likely receive a hefty payday in free agency.

Braden Holtby

It wasn’t an easy season for Holtby, who had one of his worst campaigns and was benched for the first two games of the playoffs. But after getting back in net, he looked like the player who finished in the top four in Vezina Trophy voting each of the past three years, posting a goals against average of 2.16 and a save percentage of .922. His awe-inspiring save in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals will go down as one of the iconic plays of the Capitals’ run.

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Kevin Durant steers Golden State Warriors past Cleveland Cavaliers to inch closer to NBA title

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A triple-double from LeBron James was not enough as the Golden State Warriors moved within one win of a second consecutive NBA Finals victory.

The Cleveland Cavaliers moved swiftly out the blocks in the third game of the best-of-seven series, racing to a double-digit lead in the first quarter and taking a six-point lead into half-time.

But the Warriors rallied and were helped to a 110-102 win by 43 points from Kevin Durant, as the side took a 3-0 series lead.

Durant effectively sealed the win with a three-pointer with less than 60 seconds left to play, while Steph Curry could not live up to his form in Game 2 as he only made one out of 10 three-point attempts.

James led the scoring for the Cavs with 33, adding 10 rebounds and 11 assists at the Quicken Loans Arena.

Golden State’s first chance to wrap up the title will come on Friday night at the same court.

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