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Thursday May 25 2017
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Sympathy For The Capitals

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Just for a minute, allow the Washington Capitals to introduce themselves.

A team that has held the title of regular season division champs in five of the last eight years.  A squad that boasts three Eastern Conference regular-season titles, including a Presidents’ Trophy-getting 2017 campaign, where the team crowed an NHL-best, 118 points.

For 82-games a season, Washington is consistently the elitist of the league, holding nothing less than a general’s rank.

As we all know it goes in the NHL, however, you can lay all the traps for troubadours you want, but if you don’t kill them before they reach the postseason, they’ll usually come back to slay you.

Breathe it in, folks.  This is Capitals hockey.

Thanks to the New York Rangers and the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Caps have been eliminated prior to reaching the Stanley Cup six of the last nine years (the other three years Tampa Bay, Montréal and a non-berth took the honors).  Maybe even more frustrating is the fact that Washington hasn’t even gotten to the conference finals since knocking off Buffalo in 1998, only to have their souls laid to waste by Detroit with a 4-0 sweep in their lone Stanley Cup Finals appearance (Anastasia screamed in vein).

In the franchise’s 43rd season, the Pens kept with the status quo, eliminating Washington in a Game Seven 2-0 beatdown at Verizon Center, removing all palpable notions of what seemed to be the Caps’ most promising season yet. 

With the albatross fastened firmly around its neck, Washington has lost all four Game Seven postseason series it has played against the leash-holding Penguins, who knocked their conference rivals out of the playoffs two years in a row.

In the first six games of this series, the Capitals outshot Pittsburgh by an average of 11 shots, held control of the puck over 63% of the time and dominated the forecheck.  In Game Six, the Caps outclassed the Penguins in every way, forcing many at PPG Paints Arena to boo their own Pittsburgh squad, who could muster up just 13 shots in 40 minutes of play. 

And yet, much like they do year-after-year, the Washington Capitals flushed all of their momentum down the toilet, grasped their necks with both hands, and they squeezed. 

It shouldn’t even matter that the Penguins had not played one game with starting goalie Matt Murray in net, but instead relied on an old war horse; a stingy, unforgiving name of the dreaded, nightmarish past of Washington playoff lore: Marc Andre-Fleury, who only pitched a 29-save shutout Wednesday night.

Why should anybody even bother to note a cabinet-emptied, injury-plagued blue line, with guys like Chad Ruwhedel and Brian Dumoulin channeling their inner-Guy Lapointe, helping to make Alex Ovechkin look like the shell of a man who once played the game great.

And what about Ovechkin?

Even in his prime, the Penguins and Rangers completely tarnished one of hockey’s most prestigious names by bestowing upon him a title that many see as simply the ringleader of the most consistent choke artists in sports.

With a nuance of Lebron James pre-Miami Heat, the asterisk of no championship follows Ovechkin around, and boasting a seven-time all-star, three-time Hart Memorial Trophy resume is just salt in the eyes.

Maybe in a world without Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Fleury, Ovechkin would have a cup or two.  As it is, the 31-year old might have been better off if he just stuck around Saint Petersburg.

And owner Ted Leonsis, well he might be known for more than just being a man of wealth and taste.

It’s brutal, exacerbating and unhealthy to be a Washington Capitals fan.  It’s a never-ending gauntlet of very small successes, but extremely large letdowns.

Mick and the gang will implore all of you to have some courtesy, have some sympathy and some taste for these guys.

For a lot of young student-athletes, sports are essentially a hobby. They represent an activity to boost a college résumé or a tool to stay active. But for many young athletes, sports mean much more.
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