At this time last year, Washington Capitals fans sent the team off from its Arlington, Virginia practice facility to board a plane to Las Vegas and approach the final step of their destiny. Hockey fever was the city’s diagnosis until the Capitals came home from Game 5 with their first-ever Stanley Cup.
Now, Alex Ovechkin and crew must prepare to bid farewell to their prized possession, as the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues kick off the 2019 Stanley Cup Final Monday night in Boston.
While the Capitals can’t keep the Cup after this series, both teams have enough connections with Washington that you could say they’ll still hold it in spirit — although the Blues, a long-snakebitten franchise still seeking its first league title, are more reminiscent of the Capitals’ struggle to get over the hump.
Debuting in 1967, the Blues are one of the oldest NHL franchises outside the Original Six. They played in three Stanley Cups in their first three seasons of existence, but lost them all, including to the Bruins in a famous series in 1970. They haven’t been back since — a Cup-less stretch even longer than the Capitals’ 42 futile seasons until winning in 2018.
Blues interim coach Craig Berube, who took over midseason when the team fired Mike Yeo, played seven of his 17 NHL seasons as a left wing for the Capitals. On the other bench, Boston’s Bruce Cassidy coached the Capitals in 2002-03 and 2003-04, but less than a third of the way into that second season, Washington fired him for poor performance.
But that was the last year before the Ovechkin era; after finishing that season a putrid 23-46-10-3, the Capitals won the draft lottery and got to select their franchise-altering Russian star, some would say thanks in part to Cassidy.
It doesn’t stop at the coaches. Brett Connolly played for the Bruins the year before coming to Washington, and former Capital Marcus Johansson ended up in Boston at this year’s trade deadline.
More notably, T.J. Oshie was a Blues first-round pick and played seven years in St. Louis. When the Capitals acquired him in 2015, they shipped prospect Pheonix Copley to the Blues — but he was re-acquired by Washington in a later trade and since then was promoted to the organization’s No. 2 goaltender.
A few days after the Capitals’ season-ending Game 7 loss to Carolina, Oshie said he’d root for the Blues to go the rest of the way.
“For that fanbase and a lot of the staff that took care of me for seven years, and some players that are still there that I’ve had and have a close bond with, I’d love to see them win,” Oshie said. “They put in a lot of hard work. As this organization and the staff and players have here, they have, too. They’ve had a lot of heartbreak, so it would be special with their story with how they struggled earlier in the year and how they came together. It would be a petty cool story for them.”
The story has only gotten “cooler” for the Blues as it’s continued on. They came back after being down to Dallas three games to two in the semifinals, won Game 7 in double overtime and then outscored San Jose 10-1 in the last two games of the conference finals.
If St. Louis wins, it’ll be two straight years of first-time Stanley Cup champions overcoming decades of frustration. If the Bruins win, the city of Boston will hold three of the four major leagues’ titles at once, along with the most recent World Series and Super Bowl. Capitals fans can take their pick.