As sports fans, we love curses. There’s just something mystical about a team repeatedly unable to win a championship. As if there really are sports or hockey gods.
There’s plenty of championship-starved franchises to go around in the NHL, but it’s hard not to identify the Washington Capitals as the team that’s been through the worst suffering.
Of the 18 teams that were in the NHL when the Capitals entered the league in 1974, only two of them still haven’t won a Stanley Cup Final game. Washington is one of them. The Capitals are also just one of four teams that have been around for more than 40 years and are still waiting for their first championship.
And it’s not like they’ve gone without chances. Prior to this season, they’ve been to the playoffs 26 of the last 33 years and advanced past the second round just twice. That includes two clubs that won the Presidents’ Trophy.
There’s no fancy name for it like the “Curse of the Great Bambino” or the “Curse of the Billy Goat“, but it definitely seems as though the Capitals are cursed. However, it could all be coming to an end this spring.
Dramatically Breaking the Curse
Now that a curse has been established, let’s talk breaking it. When these things end, it’s usually in storybook fashion. That’s just how the sports gods want it.
Winning the championship isn’t enough – it has to be done dramatically. It’s tough watching the Capitals on the verge of erasing a 3-1 series deficit in the second round and not recalling what the Chicago Cubs did last October (and November) to end their drought.
There are many parallels between the two. The Cubs ran the table during the regular season, clearly establishing themselves as the league’s most dominant team. But they still faced adversity in the postseason in large part due to the amount of pressure the players felt from “the curse.” The Cubs lost two of the first three in the NLCS and three of the first four in the World Series. The Capitals did the same in the first two rounds of this postseason.
Chicago, though, rallied both times and won a dramatic Game 7 over another championship-starved team in Cleveland to win the World Series. It was an appropriate ending to a title 108 years in the making. Although Capitals fans haven’t been waiting nearly as long as that, a similar rally would make the franchise’s first championship equally enjoyable.
Vanquishing a Rival
The Boston Red Sox had a similar “storybook” end to their curse back in 2004 but with yet another twist. On their way to their first title in 86 years, the Red Sox erased a 3-0 deficit versus their arch rival – the New York Yankees.
In that 86-year span, the Yankees won 26 world championships to the Red Sox zero. And every year, Boston just couldn’t get past its bitter rival. In 2003, the Red Sox held a Game 7 lead versus the Yankees and were five outs from the World Series, but they eventually fell in extra innings.
The playoff histories of the Capitals and their arch-enemy, the Pittsburgh Penguins, is eerily similar. Pittsburgh and Washington have faced each other nine previous times in the playoffs, and the Penguins have won eight of them. In the last two playoff meetings, Pittsburgh won despite Washington holding home ice and went on to lift the Stanley Cup.
A year after collapsing in Game 7, the Red Sox vanquished their old rival with four straight wins in the ALCS. The Capitals are looking for a similar comeback and revenge from last year as well.
Erasing any 3-1 playoff deficit is a tremendous accomplishment, but to do it versus your most hated opponent, who also happens to be the defending Stanley Cup champion, would be extra sweet.
Is it Finally Washington’s Year?
Curses are part of what makes sports fun. But to argue this Capitals team will fail in Game 7 because that’s what Washington always does is a rather weak argument.
The same could have been said for the Cubs, the Red Sox and many other teams prior to them breaking curses. History tells us that it’s fair to doubt them, but as Doc Emerick would say, “it’s not prophecy.”
Penguins 5-0 ROAD record in Game 7s is the best in NHL, NBA or MLB postseason history
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 9, 2017
This genuinely feels like a different Capitals team. They’re hungry, playing with urgency and are finally responding to adversity. With the season on the line in the third period of Game 5, they could have very easily wilted. Instead, they scored the next eight goals of the series.
On the other side, the Penguins look like a beaten team. Like the Capitals in years past, their stars were nowhere to be found in the most important game of the season Monday. But overall, they look like a team that’s exhausted; a squad that no longer has any answers to filling the void left behind by Kris Letang.
I felt it. In Game 5, the Capitals were toast.
Carlson admitted they were pressing and worried.
The 3rd period explosion changed mindset.
— Dan Kingerski (@TheDanKingerski) May 9, 2017
It’s hard to imagine the Penguins mustering up enough energy on the road to take this series. Two more rounds still await after Wednesday, but it truly appears as though this could finally be the Capitals’ year.
Of course, unless it isn’t. All of Washington will be anxiously waiting to see if the Capitals’ get their storybook ending in this Game 7.
Dave Holcomb is excited to join The Hockey Writers team, covering the Pittsburgh Penguins. Holcomb began his NHL work as a fantasy columnist at The Sports Network. In 2015, Holcomb joined the fantasy NHL team at FanRag Sports, where he eventually worked into a beat writer position, covering both the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins. He continues to cover the Metropolitan division, along with the NFL and Syracuse basketball, for FanRag Sports. To find more of his work, follow Holcomb on Twitter at @dmholcomb.