- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Ted Leonsis woke up at 5:30 a.m. on Monday, as usual, in the same bed in the same house, but surrounded by uncharted territory.

Later, his Washington Capitals would play the Pittsburgh Penguins at Verizon Center, leading 1-0 in an Eastern Conference semifinal. In the 10 years that Mr. Leonsis has passionately and visibly owned the team, the Capitals never have ventured this far.

Since he bought the team in May 1999 for $80 million, there’s been a series of fits and starts - building up with high-priced players, tearing it all down and building it up again, mostly through the draft. Last season provided a breakthrough of sorts as the Capitals won the Southeast Division, but they were bounced in the first round of the playoffs by losing Game 7 at home to Philadelphia.

Now they have broken through that barrier, advancing to the second round. And how was the excitable, animated Mr. Leonsis handling such a circumstance? Unexpectedly.

“I’m unnaturally super-calm,” he said while eating lunch at the team’s training facility in Arlington. “I don’t know what it is. I’m just very calm, very steadfast. I think that’s part of maturing as an owner.”

So is knowing when to keep your mouth shut. Mr. Leonsis was unnaturally subdued during the first-round series with the New York Rangers.

“With the New York media, I wanted to make sure there was no fodder, if you will, for them,” he said.

He has since opened up a bit, but he was still sticking to his routine. Mr. Leonsis answered his e-mails at home in the morning before heading to his office at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “There are so many games and you have to approach each game like it’s no different from any other game,” Mr. Leonsis said. “Because it’s not life and death.”

Not yet, anyway. The Caps’ tense, 2-1 win in Game 7 with the Rangers “WAS life and death,” he said.

Prior to Game 2 with the Penguins, Mr. Leonsis, as always, visited with coach Bruce Boudreau and his assistants. He assured them that his emotions were holding steady. “And Bruce really appreciates that,” he said.

Then he strolled around the arena, schmoozed with fans, washed his hands (you can’t be too careful these days) and settled into his seat in the owner’s box.

“This is gonna be a long series,” he said before the game. “I liked some of the things we did the last game, and I’m sure there are some things we can do better. I’m sure we’re going to adjust and they’ll make adjustments. Tonight’s another game.”

Not quite. Caps superstar Alex Ovechkin and his Penguins counterpart, Sidney Crosby, each had a hat trick and Washington won again, 4-3, as the roof almost came off the building.

“I think that was one of the best hockey games I’ve ever seen as a fan,” Mr. Leonsis said. “It was just nonstop, back-and-forth, with two unbelievable players.”

Despite his placid exterior, Mr. Leonsis conceded that his “superstitions have been turned up a little higher.”

He was wrestling with some important decisions. “I’m undefeated so far with this gold watch,” he said. “The big question is, do I milk it? Do I keep wearing it till it loses, or save it for Game 7, when I really need it?”

The gold watch won again.

“Want to take my blood pressure?,” he joked afterward. “It’s smooth. Calm. I’ve been calm, I’ve been collected. We still have a lot of work to do. We did what we needed to do, which was protect home ice.”

Mr. Leonsis likes to make lists - he is famous for the 101 things he wanted to accomplish in life - and before the season, he wrote down several goals. Make the playoffs. Check. Finish with the best-regular season record in team history. Check. Win a second straight division championship. Check again.

Now comes the hard part. “There’s no self-satisfaction yet because we haven’t won the championship,” he said. “That’s the ultimate goal, as a franchise, you have to have. The relief is that all the other impediments have been removed. We don’t have to worry about whether we can sell enough tickets or can we keep the other team’s fans out of our building or can we keep the team together?”

With the Caps up 2-0, Mr. Leonsis still was predicting a long journey as the series moves to Pittsburgh and Wednesday night’s Game 3. He calls the Penguins “an unbelievably good and scary team.” Still, he was bubbling after the win. Not only was he happy with the outcome, but he also seemed especially pleased with his metaphorical comparison between the artistic, graceful Crosby and the powerful, brutish Ovechkin.

Crosby is like a fine white wine, he said, Ovechkin a “Denver Slammer.” A what? Mr. Leonsis was incredulous that he had to enlighten someone who apparently has lived a sheltered life.

“You get a glass of champagne,” he explained. “And then you drop a shot of tequila into the glass, and then you whack the glass, so that all the fizz is coming up, and you shoot it. That’s what Alex is.”

Engulfed by reporters, Mr. Leonsis held court, enjoying the moment. He often commands as much attention as his players do. Aside from the fact that he signs their paychecks, they seem to enjoy his presence.

“I’ve been on three different teams and I’ve never had an owner so involved,” veteran forward Matt Bradley said. “But it’s great to see his passion for the game, and he truly does care if we win or lose, which is great to see from an owner.

“He’s as happy as anyone when we win, and as unhappy when we lose. You want to play well for him, too. Some owners, it’s kind of like their toy, or whatever, and they enjoy going to games but they really don’t get that seriously into it. But when you see Ted up on that JumboTron, he’s as into the game as anybody in the building. It’s really uplifting for the team.”

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