Win It Now
THERE IS A natural lifespan for good teams in any salary-capped sport. Five years. Maybe you can parlay a little luck and a healthy dose of smarts into extended longevity, but five years is what a good team can expect before the ravages of age, free agency and injury slam the window of opportunity on championships.
The Capitals are now, as the TV folks say, on the clock.
And so Washington, the NHL's best regular-season team last year, will seize the first Stanley Cup in franchise history because, in part, it is time. Just as the Blackhawks knew they needed to win in 2010 because of looming cap issues, there is growing urgency inside the Beltway. After losing a second-round Game 7 at home to the Penguins in '09 and blowing a 3--1 series lead to the Canadiens in the first round last spring, the Capitals realize they have squandered part of their legacy. "Obviously we were shocked and frustrated, and there was a ton of emotion [after the Montreal series]," defenseman Mike Green says. "I wouldn't say this year is make-or-break, but we need to win. We want to win so bad."
Alex Ovechkin, hockey's favorite show-off, needs a Cup more than anyone—having been party last year to both Washington's playoff hairball and Russia's embarrassing Olympic loss to Team Canada. Like rival Sidney Crosby, Ovechkin ultimately will be judged not by eye-candy goals but by his ability to lead a team to a Cup. At 25, he has already left at least one on the table.
The Caps' goaltending is unproven and the penalty kill is a mess. But a bad PK can be salvaged, and goalies Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth would be no more surprising Cup winners than Chicago's Antti Niemi. And, of course, Washington is blessed with a singular ability to fill the opposing net, which can hide most weaknesses. The Capitals' lessons have been internalized. They are finally ready. They know—tick ... tick ... tick—their moment is now.
1 Washington CAPITALS*
2 Pittsburgh PENGUINS*
3 Philadelphia FLYERS