- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 4, 2018

If Saturday’s Washington Capitals win over the Toronto Maple Leafs felt a little like a reprise of U.S.-versus-Canada at the just-completed Olympics in South Korea, there are a couple of good reasons.  

The U.S. women’s hockey team, which beat Canada in the gold medal game in a shootout, was honored at the second intermission of the outdoor NHL Stadium Series event in Annapolis.

Ditto the U.S. men’s curling team, which beat Canada twice en route to gold. They delivered the ceremonial puck drop before the game curling-style, with brooms and all.

The dominant win under the stars at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium is a moment players and coaches hope the Capitals can build upon. 

“I think this is one of those games where it was special just because of the setting and the presentation that was there,” coach Barry Trotz said. “But I think you can see when you’re all dialed in and you’re playing the right way, you get a little bit of that joy back in our game. And I thought we had some joy in our game. We had a few chuckles on the bench.”

An informal poll of curlers and women’s hockey champions before the game found that four out of four gold medallists were pulling for Washington to beat Toronto.

Curler Matt Hamilton said it was all about a continuation of Team USA versus Canada.

His teammate, skipper John Shuster, is friends with Capitals blueliner Matt Niskanen, whom he grew up near in Minnesota.

Women’s goalie Maddie Rooney was rooting for Washington because she is a fan of Braden Holtby.

And Haley Skarupa, a lifelong Capitals fan and native of Rockville, Maryland, said she had planned to attend the Stadium Series game with her family even before the team was invited.

“I think coming home is awesome, coming back to Maryland and D.C. Everyone on my team knows that I’m from here,” Skarupa said. “They’re asking about all the hot spots to go and going back to the monuments with all them. I hadn’t been to the monuments in so long, so going there with my team and an Olympic gold medal? That’s beyond my wildest dreams.”

A momentary blackout in the stadium suspended play in the third period, but even then, fans in the stands rolled with it and took out their cell phones to provide some light. Apart from that, the event went off without a hitch. Players complimented the excellent condition of the ice after the game and reflected on the night’s other perks.

“It was special. The women’s team and also the curlers, the people that we followed closely during the Olympics, obviously,” John Carlson said. “It was cool to have them in the building.”

The Capitals now depart for their California trip, playing the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. All three teams are in playoff position in the Western Conference.

The players will stay on task and “guard the points,” as Alex Ovechkin put it, but to do so, they might hope to keep riding off the memories of the franchise’s third stadium win in three outings.

“It was a good vibe on our bench,” Trotz said. “And usually when it’s a good vibe on our bench, then we’re usually a pretty good hockey team.”

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