After an agonizing 80 games, Washington are back in the playoffs after a one year absence. It started to get a bit too nerve-wracking when the likes of Ottawa and Boston were coming out of nowhere to threaten the Capitals’ standing in the playoffs. Fortunately, the Toronto Maple Leafs kept beating up the Senators and Pittsburgh keeps their head coach, Mike Johnston, as bewildered as Tom Coughlin in a football game in December. Now that the Verizon Center will keep on “Rocking the Red” in April, I have noticed that the vast majority of Washington’s potential opponents have scarred some Capitals fans a bit too many times in their 40-year quest for their first ever Stanley Cup. Let’s rank all of them to see which teams Caps fans want to see the proverbial monkeys taken out of their backs the most.
This is with the assumption that Ottawa finds a way to make the playoffs after their stumble from the previous two weeks. In it’s history, Washington has only played one series with the Senators and they won it in the second round of the 1998 Stanley Cup playoffs, four games to one. Last time I checked, there is no baggage with this team so far.
Now we are in the section of the countdown where there is some form of baggage from here on out. 1998 was also the only time Washington played Detroit in it’s playoff history and, apparently, it was a very important series for the franchise. Someone named Esa Tikkanen missed a wide open shot to blow a chance to win game two and split the series in Detroit, the Red Wings would go on to win the rest of the series in convincing fashion to win their second straight Stanley Cup.
As much as the Tikanen whiff at goal has angered plenty of Caps fans, Detroit had seven current and future hall of fame players on that roster (assuming Sergei Federov and Nicklas Lidstrom will join the Hall of Fame soon) and arguably the greatest head coach of all time in Scotty Bowman. Plus, a sportsmanlike standing ovation was given to the injured Vladimir Konstantinov when he was introduced by the jumbotron in the clinching game four. I don’t feel like there are enough bad vibes with Detroit to have them higher on this list.
Now here’s a team that brings some ill will to the faithful in DC. Assuming they make the playoffs, the Capitals do have a modest record against the Bruins in the playoffs. Despite winning the first round of that same 1998 playoffs and having Joel Ward score the game winner in the first round of the 2011 playoffs, 1990 is one the Bruins fans will bring up for rebuttal. It was Washington’s first ever Conference Finals appearance and the likes of Ray Bourque, Cam Neely and Mike Milbury swept Rod Langway’s crew. Still, the Capitals team and management felt a sense of accomplishment going further than anytime the franchise has gone before.
However, a postseason celebration party would change the course of Capitals history. After a night at Champions Sports Bar in Georgetown, Geoff Courtnall, Dino Ciccarelli, Neil Sheehy and Scott Stevens were involved in a horrifying incident with a 17-year old waitress. Even if no charges were pressed, owner Abe Pollin made it his mission to rid any Capitals player involved from the team and, regardless of lack of assets in return, that all happened within the span of two years. By 1997, the Capitals became an aging franchise that, barring miracles, no longer showed signs of contending for a Stanley Cup. Until 2003, Capitals management were constantly stuck in limbo wondering if they should rebuild the team from scratch. Yes, Boston was not to blame for that fateful night in Georgetown and Pollin had valid reasons to save his hockey team from a public relations nightmare, but it’s also a moment Capitals fans don’t want to remember as well, especially considering the success on the ice Stevens and Ciccarelli had after wearing Capitals colors. Oh, and having Bobby Carpenter on that 1990 Bruins team doesn’t help, either.
5. Tampa Bay
In the two series the Capitals have played against Tampa, they wish they could have back both of them. In the divisional semifinals in 2003, Washington won the first two games before Nikolai Khabibulin decided to turn into Ken Dryden and win the remaining four games. More than a year later, the same Lightning team would go on to win the Stanley Cup.
In 2011, the Capitals just came off of their first ever convincing series win in the Bruce Boudreau era, beating the New York Rangers four games to one. After the first two games in Washington, they were down two games to nothing and no longer had Mike Green, John Carlson and Dennis Wideman playing at all or at 100% health. The likes of Sean Collins had to come in to prevent a guaranteed sweep, but to no avail. It would be the last playoff series the Capitals would have with the most fun head coach in franchise history and the after-effects are still being felt today.
Now we get into the possible playoff opponents that surely have more than it’s fair share of content. Of the eight series Washington has been involved with Pittsburgh, the Capitals have only won one of them and that was in 1994. Fans race to find the nearest earplugs when they have to be reminded of the greatness of Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. It also doesn’t help that Jagr signed with the Capitals in 2002 and never lived up to the billing of his seven figure annual salary in his 18-month stay.
3. New York Rangers
Admittedly, some of you would think the Penguins should be ahead of the Rangers in this countdown, but recency is the tiebreaker between these two rivals. In the last six years, Washington has played the Rangers four times, with the Capitals winning half of them. While the Capitals have upset the Rangers a few times beforehand (thanks John Druce!!!), the Rangers have done the same as well. Some have argued that the 1986 Capitals team was the greatest in franchise history. Guess who upset them in their Stanley Cup run? You guessed it; the Rangers. Add the fact that they should win the Presidents Trophy this year (even though that’s really a disadvantage), and you have years of animosity built between the two fan bases.
2. New York Islanders
Oh boy! We are really beginning to open up some decades-old wounds now. Since Washington’s first playoff series in 1982, the Islanders were their playoff opponents every year until 1987. Add in the 1993 first round series and you have seven, with Washington winning only one of them. It was that ’86 team that would be the only team to beat the Islanders in a playoff series in franchise history, but it’s the game seven on Easter Sunday in next year’s series that Capitals fans from a generation will forever be in some form of a conniption.
Yes, the Islanders were at the peak of their powers during those days, but the current edition in Long Island should be one that Caps fans should despise as well. It’s a young brash team that can out-skate and score goals at will more than anyone in the NHL, defense be darned. Does that sound familiar? Oh, and this year is the final one for the Nassau Coliseum before the team moves to Brooklyn. Feel good vibes and new car smell surround this hockey team and it is a dangerous musk that always finds a way to catch opponents off guard come playoff time. Capitals fans should be worried.
I said, I don’t want to talk about it.
No, really, I don’t want to talk about it.
HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU, I DON’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT?!?!?
Dominic Moore will forever be in my nightmares. Thomas Plekanec’s turtle neck will forever be in my nightmares. A past-his-prime Brian Gionta out-skating Jeff Schultz and a confused but still young-at-the-time Mike Green will forever be in my nightmares. Scott Gomez’s Scott Gomezness will forever be in my nightmares. Hal Gill’s height will forever be in my nightmares. Even this win is forever in my nightmares for how many bad habits were created in this game.
It is flat out insulting how no one in the Washington media has considered this the most scarring playoff loss in the CITY’S history, let alone the franchise’s. Those 2008-10 Capitals teams were not only the most accomplished, but also the most fun hockey teams Washington DC has ever seen and a boring Canadiens team that never hit 90 points in the standings ruined it for a generation that hasn’t recovered since.
Oh, and while finishing up my senior year in college, I was stuck with watching the national broadcast with Sam Rosen calling the play-by-play on Versus. Him and his “Saaave by Hah-Lahk!!!” announcing is forever nails on a chalkboard to me. Let’s never forget that while announcing local NFL games, he called Donovan McNabb’s and Rex Grossman’s benching, last season’s game against the Rams that had this coin flip arrangement and Detroit’s first ever win after their 0-16 season…against Washington. The man’s soul purpose in life is to troll Washingtonians and I refuse to hear an argument against it!
Ben covers the Washington Capitals at the hockey writers. He has been blogging about the NHL since March 2013. Follow him @DCSportsDork