Tha Sports Junkies 101

It’s Obvious: Stanley Cup or Bust for Capitals

It's Obvious: Stanley Cup or Bust for Capitals Bridget Samuels/via Flickr

Washington, Ovechkin looking for franchise’s first ever championship


For the second straight spring, the Washington Capitals enter the Stanley Cup playoffs as the league’s best regular season team. Their 55-19-8 record helped them win the President’s Trophy for the second straight year, and third time in franchise history. There is one trophy, though, that the franchise has yet to win: the Stanley Cup. And despite all the regular season success, you better believe it’s Stanley Cup or bust for them this season.

Ever since they drafted Alexander Ovechkin No. 1 overall in the 2004 NHL draft, expectations for the Capitals have been high. After missing the playoffs in his first two seasons, Ovechkin led Washington back to the postseason in 2008. Since then, they have been a constant in the postseason.

The Capitals have missed the playoffs only once (2014) since 2008. Despite all those appearances, though, they have not gone past the second round with Ovechkin. In fact, Washington hasn’t reached the third round of the playoffs since 1998 when they made their only Stanley Cup Final appearance.

This year’s team is looking to change that, and, on paper, they have a team that can do it.


The Capitals may be the deepest team in the NHL. They have everything you look for from a championship team: offense, defense, special teams, and goaltending.

While still a major offensive threat, Ovechkin doesn’t have to carry the offensive load by himself anymore. Guys like Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie, and Justin Williams have been brought in in recent seasons to give Washington balanced scoring amongst their top-six.

You add those guys to Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom and you have a very scary top-six. Their bottom-six isn’t half bad, either.

Guys like Marcus Johansson, Jay Beagle, and Lars Eller are solid two-way players who can contribute on both sides of the puck. Beagle, Tom Wilson, and Daniel Winnik also give the Capitals a physicality and toughness they may have not had in recent postseasons.

On the back end, the acquisition of Kevin Shattenkirk prior to the trade deadline has fortified their defense. It has given each of Washington’s defensive pairings a balance that coaches would dream of having. Each pair has a “stay-at-home” defender and a puck mover.

And behind that defense is the 2016 Vezina Trophy winner, goaltender Braden Holtby.

While Holtby did not tie an NHL record as he did last year, he still had a career year in 2016-17. He established career bests in goals against average (2.07) and save percentage (.925), his best since becoming a starter in 2012-13. He also tied his career best with nine shutouts.

Those numbers helped him win the William Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed during the season, as well.

So, again, the Capitals have everything they need, on paper, to claim the franchise’s first ever Stanley Cup. They just need to execute on the ice and overcome some playoff demons.


Last spring, Washington’s Stanley Cup dreams were dashed when Nick Bonino scored in overtime of Game 6 to give the Pittsburgh Penguins a 4-2 series win over the Capitals. The Penguins would then go on to win their fourth Stanley Cup.

The year before that, Washington suffered an even more painful defeat in the second round. Derek Stepan scored in overtime of Game 7 to send the New York Rangers to the 2015 Eastern Conference Final. It was the Capitals’ sixth Game 7 defeat in their previous seven postseason appearances.

This year, they should reach the second round yet again. While it’s not wise to overlook an opponent, Washington is a HEAVY favorite against their first-round opponent, the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Maple Leafs are a young, up-and-coming team with plenty of promise. However, for most of the roster, this will be their first taste of NHL playoff hockey. The Capitals, on the other hand, have been here more than once.

So if all goes according to plan, Washington will reach the conference semi-finals for the fifth time since 2008.

That’s where things will get interesting. Should the Caps reach the second round, they will face the winner of the Penguins-Columbus Blue Jackets series. Either team would pose a great threat to derailing the Capitals’ dream of reaching the Conference Final for the first time since 1998.

But, as they say, sometimes the best way to overcoming your demons is by confronting them. That is what Washington would have to do to reach the third round.


However, one does have to wonder what will happen if this team fails to get past the second round again. Does the roster get blown up? Would head coach Barry Trotz be fired? Would Ovechkin consider leaving? Many may scoff at that last question, but I believe it is something that Ovechkin may think about.

The 31-year-old just completed his 12th NHL season. He is making his ninth appearance in the playoffs. He has said scoring goals don’t matter as much to him anymore as winning a Cup does, so you know he wants to win, badly.

His “rival”, Penguins center Sidney Crosby, already has two Stanley Cup championships and three Cup Final appearances since they entered the league in 2005-06. Ovechkin hasn’t even reached the conference final yet.

This Capitals team is probably the best he has ever had around him. You would have to think the frustration would be immense if they don’t get to third round again or win the Cup. Washington fans don’t even want to imagine how immense that frustration would be should Toronto pull off the upset.

It wouldn’t be the first time, though, the Capitals suffer an upset. In 2010, they won their first ever President’s Trophy. They faced the 8th-seeded Montreal Canadiens in the first round that playoff year.

After Game 4, it looked like they were well on their way to the second round. Washington held a 3-1 series lead only to see Montreal come all the way back to win the series in seven games.

While that loss was upsetting, losing to the Leafs would probably be one of the bigger upsets in NHL postseason history. And it’s that underdog role that makes Toronto dangerous.


All the pressure in this series is on the Caps. The Maple Leafs have absolutely nothing to lose going into the playoffs. Yes, they want to win a Cup, but no one is expecting them to do it this year because they are such a young team. Mostly everyone just sees this as a chance for them to gain playoff experience.

That will all change if Toronto steals Game 1. Should that happen, expect that team to gain some serious confidence, especially if they can steal the first two games in our nation’s capital.

Now, I’m not saying if the Leafs win Game 1 they’ll win the series. One would have to wonder, though, if that would have any psychological effects on guys like Ovechkin and Backstrom, who have suffered all those disappointing losses since 2008.

However, even if Washington gets past Toronto, the pressure will still be on them. As President’s Trophy winners, the Capitals have home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs, which is what you look to get whenever you can in the postseason. And that trophy also brings the expectation of winning.

As the title of the article states, it’s Stanley Cup or bust this year for Washington. They are big favorites, not just in this series, but in the playoffs as a whole. Even Ovechkin remarked how they are all in this year after the team acquired Shattenkirk. We will just have to watch and see if they can live up to the expectations.

Ovechkin and his Capitals will get their quest for the Cup underway Thursday night (7:00 PM ET, USA, CBC, TVAS, CSN-DC) in Game 1 against Toronto.