The Washington Capitals opened up their attempt to be the sports team that owns the nation’s capital on the right foot with a 5-3 win over the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night at Verizon Center.
It’s there for the taking — the king of the city.
We thought perhaps the Washington Nationals would have been crowned as kings by now, but they blew their opportunities twice in the past four years with early-round exits in the playoffs and now, after a disappointing season that fell far short of expectations, everyone appears to be ready to wash their hands of them — the price they pay for failing to be Washington’s sports savior.
The Washington Wizards — who have still yet to make it past the second round of the NBA playoffs in the past two seasons — seem to have gained some momentum, the best chance perhaps to finally deliver a championship to the DMV when their season opens on Oct. 28 at the Orlando Magic.
It’s never good, though, when your optimism is based on what might have happened if your best player, John Wall, had been healthy in that series last season against the Atlanta Hawks. That’s a big what-if to hang your crown on.
Also, there is no indication that anyone in the Eastern Conference is about to knock the crown off the head of King James. Look at the Cleveland Cavaliers and talk about what-if because of injuries.
The Redskins? A crown for this franchise now and for the foreseeable future would be a winning season without an embarrassing drama. (By the way, did you notice the three Super Bowl trophies we’ve got in the trophy case?)
So, guess what? The best chance for a championship parade down Pennsylvania Avenue — unless we get desperate as a community and start holding parades for effort, like the D.C. Council did two years ago with a resolution honoring the Wizards for their 44-win season and second-round playoff defeat — remains the same franchise that has carried the savior burden for several years now.
Ladies and gentlemen, your Washington Capitals.
“We’re still working, and it’s not perfect yet, but I’m pretty sure we’re going to be fine and we’re going to be good,” Alex Ovechkin told reporters after the game.
Oh, yes, Ovechkin — the three-time Hart Trophy winner as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player, who scored a remarkable goal on Saturday night.
“He’s a great player, but I’ve got to make that save to keep us in it,” Devils goaltender Keith Kincaid said. “Teams need a big save from their goaltender late in the game like that, but unfortunately, I couldn’t get it for them.”
That’s why the Capitals remain the best chance for a title. This team plays a game that is more random than any other — a game that, in a seventh and deciding contest, can be decided by one goal that the goalie couldn’t stop, maybe perhaps for once from the best goal scorer of his time.
The Capitals — selected by many hockey observers to be a Stanley Cup contender — have been randomly predictable in their playoff appearances during the Ovechkin era, with early exits and failed expectations.
But, despite a well-earned reputation as playoff chokers, the reality is that one random goal can send this team in a different direction. There’s no King James in the way for the Capitals.
How random is this game of hockey? If you listened to Capitals coach Barry Trotz after Saturday night’s victory, his team seemed to have no business winning that game against New Jersey.
“I’ll take the result,” he said. “I didn’t like the first period. We looked like a team that was a little rusty, hadn’t played, and we weren’t playing at game speed. They were playing at game speed and we weren’t. I thought we were very fortunate to be up 2-0 and we gave it right back, so it was probably justice, if you will. I didn’t think we deserved to be up 2-0.”
Trotz, though, knows deserving has nothing to do with it. Sometimes it comes down to being “very fortunate.”
As unfortunate as the Capitals have been in the Stanley Cup playoffs, there is nothing getting in the way of being very fortunate as well — except the Capitals themselves.
That may be all that stands in their way to the crown.
• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.