The Franchise Best Series comes to you to dive into the all-time best single season for every organization. This, of course, includes post-season results. Join us for a look back at some of the most memorable moments in each franchise’s history. Here is the Washington Capitals best season.
Cup fever is still high — even today and for those who still remember the Capitals first expansion season disaster, this elation couldn’t come soon enough. There is no question that the 2017-18 was the best season to date for the Capitals. Their grit and determination got them to not only lift the Stanley Cup but to do so while beating long-standing rivals after so many years of disappointment.
Washington Capitals 2017-18 Season
Heartache was a familiar routine for the Capitals. In the 2016-17 season, the Caps once again dominated the regular season; taking it by an 11-point margin. They finished with a 55-19-8 record, winning the Presidents’ Trophy and, notably, 16 points ahead of the second-place Pittsburgh Penguins in the Metropolitan Division. Unfortunately, as was tradition, the Capitals were knocked off by their Metropolitan rivals, and eventual Stanley Cup champions, in six games in the second round.
The majority of the Capitals roster remained the same in the off-season, with the likes of T.J. Oshie, Dmitry Orlov, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Brett Connolly and Andre Burakovsky all re-signing. It seemed the Capitals had lost more than they gained going into the 2017-18 season.
Nate Schmidt was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft, Karl Alzner jumped ship to the Montreal Canadiens because “he wanted to win,” and fellow blueliner Kevin Shattenkirk joined the New York Rangers. Finally, power-forward Justin Williams was allowed to rejoin the Carolina Hurricanes to clear cap space. The Capitals were left with a number of gaps in the roster.
Although he wasn’t a big name signing, one acquisition would later bear fruit for the eventual Stanley Cup winning team. Devante Smith-Pelly — who was considered a New Jersey Devils outcast — proved everyone wrong by scoring key goals in the future.
The Capitals stayed strong and once again remained at the top of a very competitive Metropolitan Division with a 49-26-7 record. A rocky period mid-way in their 2017-18 season jeopardized their position when the defence began to really struggle and the almost always dependable Braden Holtby had a career slump between the pipes.
The Caps rise back to the top was thanks to backup goalie Philipp Grubauer. Grubauer stepped up — taking the reins on 35 occasions, starting 28 — and saved them on many occasions during the regular season. The CAps main issue was maintaining the high tempo for the full sixty minutes, often losing games in the third or in overtime. Another was special teams, particularly the powerplay, but by the end of the season it was firing on all cylinders.
The great eight, Alex Ovechkin proved critics wrong by achieving 49 goals, which made it the ninth season of his career to achieve and surpass that number. He led the league in goals, along the way potting the 600 of his career.
Beyond another Rocket Richard for Ovi’s mantle, Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom did plenty of heavy lifting. The duo finished second and third on the team for goals and points. Combine this with the return of T.J. Oshie, who initially struggled after injury, and a career-best from Tom Wilson and the top six was formidable going into the playoffs.
First Round: Keeping it Close
None of the Capitals playoff games were easy, they had to fight tooth and nail. Old habits died hard as Columbus Bluejackets won the first two games coming from behind. Grubauer couldn’t withstand the pressure and Holtby took his place as the starter.
Sergei Bobrovsky, along with strong performances from Columbus depth players, took four out of six games to overtime. One was the longest game in franchise history. Scrappy high-intensity play by both sides, but it wasn’t enough to beat the heavily stacked dream-team from Washington, that was beginning to find its rhythm by game six.
Second Round: Beating The Curse
This was the make or break series for the Caps, and probably the most pivotal as they were determined for history to be rewritten. Moral was high for both teams after a tough series win from round one, but there was pressure from all sides. The Capitals had not progressed to the Conference final for 20 years, and the defending Stanley Cup Champions were not going to make it easy. The two top scorers, Ovechkin and Kuznetsov, were on form and scored three goals apiece in the series. It was also a time for the young guns like Lars Eller and Jakub Vrana to step up on the score sheet. At the end of the day, the Pens made mistakes, not capitalizing on scoring chances and got caught on too many odd-man rushes. Washington punished them for it ending, the series 4-2. Suddenly, the curse had been lifted.
Third Round: Remaining Underdogs
There was a definite change in the Capitals team that was heading into the Eastern Conference Final, but they were still considered underdogs against giants Tampa Bay Lightning. Like the Capitals, the Lightning were top of their division, finishing with an impressive 113 points. Both teams were heavily stacked with Nikita Kucherov third in the league on points and Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point and Victor Hedman all offensive threats.
Unlike the Capitals, the Lightning had very little resistance going into the EC finals. Winning both rounds against New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins 4-1. The Capitals lack of discipline and the Lightning’s slick special teams were an obstacle, and the series expectantly went down to the wire as a result, but the Capitals once again defied the odds to win the series 4-3
Stanley Cup Final: Battle Of The Firsts.
This Stanley Cup Final series was history in the making. The Vegas Golden Knights made a record-breaking expansion season, exceeding all expectations. The Capitals were also in unfamiliar territory. In game one the newly formed Knights surprised the Capitals and took the first win of the series. Which led to Holtby making the best save of his career and the Capitals to dig deep. However, victory was in sight and dreams came true, Caps won 4-1.
There are many theories about why the Washington Capitals finally won the coveted price, making it the best season in their franchise history. There were not many key changes to the roster that pinpoint exactly why this season was different. It can mostly be defined by the whole team’s commitment and attitude. Gone were the days of “choking”, they wanted to win, it was that simple.
Each individual player stepped up, no longer was the team success on Ovechkin’s shoulders. No one can deny the emotion across the board when the Russian captain lifted the cup. The celebrations still continue, and will likely be remembered for some time to come as the best season in franchise history.
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