It’s the dream of owner Ted Leonsis, who said he’d “cry like a baby” if it happened. It’s the dream of public address announcer Wes Johnson, who said he wouldn’t be able to hear himself if it happened. It’s the dream of every kid who wants to play in the NHL.
Winning the Stanley Cup, hockey’s Holy Grail, is no longer just wishful thinking for the Washington Capitals and their fans. It’s the only real benchmark for a successful season.
Captain Alex Ovechkin has had time to adjust to a leadership role. Coach Bruce Boudreau taught his team how to win with defense. General manager George McPhee went out in the offseason and got a proven goaltender and patched some holes on a playoff club.
Nothing less than a celebration in June is acceptable.
“We’re definitely setting the bar high this year,” defenseman John Erskine said. “If we don’t go all the way, I think it’ll be a disappointment.”
Visions of champions
Self-motivation is one part of the Caps’ mantra, but nationally the expectations were ratcheted up over the summer when The Hockey News tabbed Washington as its pick to finally break through and win the Cup.
Senior writer Ken Campbell cited McPhee’s moves of signing goalie Tomas Vokoun, defenseman Roman Hamrlik, forwards Jeff Halpern and Joel Ward and trading for forward Troy Brouwer as major reasons for the pick.
Some fans decried the magazine’s prediction as a jinx, just like a picture last season that depicted the Caps in medieval garb having won it all. Defenseman Jeff Schultz called predictions “garbage” but conceded this is the best team he’s been on and therefore the group with the best chance to make good of preseason expectations.
“If people are saying, ‘You’ve got a chance to win,’ I’m all for that. Picking us to win the Cup, that’s nice, but I’m more interested in the process and getting this right and getting this team to play right all the way through,” McPhee said. “And if you play it right all the way through, then you won’t break down in the playoffs.”
Another part of the hype centers on Ovechkin, center Nicklas Backstrom, defeseman Mike Green and right wing Alexander Semin - the so-called “Young Guns” - growing up. They’re not kids anymore, right wing Mike Knuble has said, and other veterans have preached accountability across the board.
“They’re building themselves to [where] playoffs aren’t really a goal for them,” Nashville Predators coach Barry Trotz said. “There’s only one goal for the Caps.”
But the talent has been evident for a couple of seasons, so it’s no surprise that from the inside there is confidence.
“We’ve had a team to win it the last few years and it just hasn’t worked out,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “For me, every year is the year to win the Cup. Whether it’s off of losing, getting swept in the second round, or not making the playoffs every year, you want to win it and you expect to win it.”