So, how many of you turned on your televisions about 8 p.m. Tuesday to watch the Capitals open their season against the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks?
Instead of a puck drop at shortly after 8 you were treated to a long ceremony honoring the Blackhawks for winning that Cup, which was their second in four years.
It was impressive and it was inspiring. If it didn’t give you goosebumps, you probably need to check for a pulse.
Have we mentioned it was long? Entire games have been played in less time than it took for the ceremony to finish. We’ve elected presidents more quickly. Two Olympiads may have come and gone during the ceremony. Given its length, it was probably a good move for the Capitals to wait it out inside their locker room.
But let’s hope that with every fiber of their being the Caps spent the duration of the ceremony thinking about what was taking place around them. Let’s hope they could still hear the cheers, maybe feel the building shake where they sat. Let’s hope every player, coach, trainer, executive, equipment manager and anyone else associated with the Caps thought over and over and over again, “How cool would it be to do this at Verizon Center next year? We have to make this happen.”
Yes, they do.
The Caps have their home opener Thursday night and the visiting Calgary Flames won’t have to worry about hanging out in the locker room during the pregame ceremony. Washington has another Southeast Division banner to raise. The ceremony ought to take about a minute and ought to draw a collective yawn from what will be another sellout crowd. Maybe a few will think, “Do I have time to visit the restroom before the puck drops?” Goosebumps should not be present. Anywhere.
There are division banners galore in the Verizon rafters and, frankly, that’s no longer good enough. Caps fans have been waiting for more for a long, long time and they deserve more.
George McPhee, the team’s long-time general manager knows it.
“I think these players have done a fabulous job helping turn Washington into a great hockey market,” McPhee said at the start of preseason camp. “You think about what’s transpired here, how we sell out every game. We host the Frozen Four, we sell it out. We host AHL games, we sell it out we have state of the art facilities.
“All that happens because you’re winning games. As good as it is, as great as it is, it could be so much greater and I think the players understand that. They’ve done a lot. But they need to win a Cup.”
McPhee’s job is to build the team that can do that. We’ll learn a lot over the next six months if his tinkering has been successful. The team he sent into the season is one he likes, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. If the general manager doesn’t like the team at this stage, there’s a problem.
“You come to camp every year hoping it’s the greatest year you’ll ever have,” McPhee said. “The objective is always to make the playoffs, to put yourself in position to have that great year, to compete for the Cup. We like our team it is a veteran team now, but a young veteran team. We have a coaching staff that is familiar with the group. It just seems like a real sound, solid group that should be a good team.”
There’s no doubt the Caps will be a good team, probably a playoff team again.
Good teams make the playoffs. Great teams win in the playoffs. The difference is a very fine line, a difference that was on display in the 6-4 loss in Chicago on Tuesday.
The Caps were in the game, could have won the game. They didn’t. Washington scored three goals on its power play, yet Chicago didn’t let the Caps score when they had a two-man advantage for 1:36 late in the final period in a one-goal game. Chicago was a smidge tougher, a smidge faster.
Chicago has two Stanley Cups in the past four seasons. Washington has won its division five times in the past six. It has lost in the first playoff round three times in that span, in the second three times. It hasn’t gotten out of the conference quarters since 1998, when the Caps made the Stanley Cup final series and got swept by Detroit.
In 14 seasons since, the Caps have won a total of three playoff series.
Getting there is no longer good enough. It is time to deliver. A first-round loss? Ugh. A second-round loss? Not much better. Fans around here have indeed made D.C. a hockey market and they deserve better. They deserve a Stanley Cup celebration in their own building, one they can feel live, not through their televisions.
If the thing is here, it can last 10 hours and still seem short. How cool would it be? Let’s find out.