It is always hard when your team exits the Playoffs before you are ready. This year it is a strange sensation to have the Caps out in the first round. Gone are the cries of: “It always happens.” No more can we blame the “DC Sports Curse.” We have tasted what championship winning feels like. We wanted to go back-to-back, partly because it sounded cool to do and partly because we wanted to shake up the NHL and their constant bragging about the Pittsburgh Penguins.It wasn’t to be though. The Caps fell hard in a final game seven of round one at the hands of a former teammate and friend whom they admire. Justin Williams: “Stick,” “J-Will,” or “Mr. Game 7” was the guy the Capitals thought would bring the winning charm to DC. He already had three rings one from the Carolina Hurricanes and two from the LA Kings. He did bring a degree of professionalism and “can do” attitude to the Caps but it wasn’t the right time for it to happen. After two seasons in Washington, he was ready to try somewhere else. Back to Raleigh he went.
He did indeed inspire the Canes. He changed the whole tenor of the locker room and the fan base with the winning surge to pump up the fans. He shared his leadership abilities and transformed an organization into one with hope- a hope that Capitals’ fans found in 2018. We even admired and applauded what he did to some extent. And yes, he did his thing in game seven. He was the one who got the assist on the goal that brought it to an end for the Caps. After the game he spoke of the respect he and Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin have for one another and the team effort that resulted in the Canes moving forward.
The Hurricanes will head to Barclays Center for Game One of Round Two on Friday. There they will meet the team that swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in Round One–the New York Islanders. The Isles are led by former Capitals Stanley Cup winning coach, Barry Trotz. Darn near the whole winning coaching team is part of the transformation story in New York. They have improved by implementing some of the same moves and routines that helped the Caps to win.
It was shear joy for Caps fans to see the Islanders knock out the Penguins. It felt good that the blow was delivered by someone the fans respect. However, Trotz made it very clear the Capitals would have to “go through the … Island first” if they expected to win the Cup again. That won’t be necessary now.
With the Capitals loss on Wednesday night, those hooked on hockey have a few options for where to switch their alliance. The Hurricanes and the Islanders seem to be the best choices for the Eastern Conference because of the old relationships with Williams and Trotz. Of course there are the Boston Bruins who acquired Marcus Johansson or the Columbus Blue Jackets but for some that would almost feel as bad as supporting the Pens. One way or an other, it should be a fun series to watch.
So die hard hockey fans- who do you root for in the next round? The team that beat the Caps or the team that looks a lot like the 2018 Caps? Or do you pack it in and move on to baseball??