- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 3, 2018

Andre Burakovsky repeatedly pumped his fist, his teammates cheering in the background, as he handed the prized race-car helmet off to Brooks Orpik. The defenseman put the bulky hat on — and gave a short speech.

“Let’s go back home and get things done,” Orpik said from inside the gear over his head.

Welcome to what has become the Capitals’ locker room “game-ball” ceremony — featuring a completely random jet-black racing helmet streaked with red.

After every win, the player who last received the helmet gets to pick the next player of the game.

On this night — fresh off a 3-2 Game 2 win on May 30 in Las Vegas to even the Stanley Cup Final — Burakovsky went with Orpik, who scored his first goal since 2016. (That’s not a typo.)

But, seriously, a race-car helmet? Blame Braden Holtby.

“I stumbled upon it one day,” the Capitals goaltender said, laughing.

Holtby said he bought the helmet on an impulse around November and it soon caught on.

Each year, NHL teams adopt their own traditions for postgame celebrations.

Last season, the Capitals passed around a silk boxing robe with the Muhammad Ali phrase, “WILL OVER SKILL.”

In Calgary, winger Alex Chiasson said, the Flames gave out a fireman’s helmet.

Holtby said he was “trying to create a happy energy around our group and I think it’s done that.”

“It’s all about — especially when you’re on a team with 20 guys — you’ve got to be close and you’ve got to have the camaraderie,” forward Brett Connolly said. “This group keeps it loose every day. We’ve been doing it all year. And that’s just another thing that keeps it loose.”

The Capitals are on the cusp of winning a title this year, in part, because players have stayed loose. They lead the series 3-1 entering Thursday’s Game 5.

During the Tampa Bay series, defenseman John Carlson said his teammates didn’t dwell on mistakes. Coach Barry Trotz has said all season this Capitals team has a resiliency that’s allowed it to overcome obstacles.

The helmet doesn’t just go to the traditional player of the game. After Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, winger T.J. Oshie said it would have made sense to give it to Holtby, given his shutout and dominance over the final two games.

But Oshie chose Burakovsky — who scored two goals.

“There’s no question on any given night … that Holts deserves this, but because you get it all the time, I’m going to spread the wealth around a little bit,” Oshie said, as captured by the team’s video crew.

When Holtby first purchased the green-visored helmet, it would light up in the dark. Now, Connolly said the helmet has been “tossed around” and the light doesn’t work as well.

The Capitals, though, still enjoy rewarding it after each win.

“It’s fun that it’s part of no one really knowing what it is,” forward Tom Wilson said. “It’s our thing. And it’s something special we can keep within the room and have fun with it.”

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