TAMPA, Fla. — Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin didn’t need to say a word to each other after the Washington Capitals clinched a spot in the Stanley Cup Final with a Game 7 win over the Lightning on Wednesday.
“We just kind of looked at each other,” Backstrom said of his teammate since he entered the league with the Capitals in 2007. “We’ve been waiting a long time for this, and now we’re here in the finals and we’re going to do everything we can to do something special here for us, for the team and for the city of Washington.”
Fans in the nation’s capital were loud enough for both of them. More than 10,000 supporters, tortured by more than a decade of cheering for a regular-season juggernaut that consistently crashed and burned in the playoffs, celebrated inside Capital One Arena as they watched the game on the scoreboard before taking the celebration outside.
It’s no surprise in a city so starved for sports success.
Washington never has won a Stanley Cup, and its only other trip to the finals was in 1998. The Capitals had failed to get out of the second round of the playoffs since Ovechkin joined the team in 2005.
The Redskins last won a Super Bowl in 1992. The Wizards haven’t won an NBA championship since they were called the Bullets in 1978, and the Nationals, like the Capitals a regular-season force the past few years, have yet to win a title. The Senators did win the 1924 World Series.
The Capitals hope to end the title drought against a Golden Knights team that’s without a championship since joining the league all the way back in October.
“Wearing this (Eastern Conference champions) hat and T-shirt is a dream come true, but we’re not there yet,” forward Andre Burakovsky said after scoring two goals in Game 7. “We have a long way to go. We’re playing a really good team here, so we’re going to just enjoy this moment for a bit and then go right back to work.”
The Capitals weren’t ready to start breaking down the matchup against Vegas immediately after the win over Tampa Bay. But they do remember they went 0-2 against the Golden Knights in the regular season.
“It’s an unusual matchup,” forward T.J. Oshie said. “I think the last 10 years have been dominated by a couple teams here, but you’ve seen what they were able to do in the regular season and especially what they’ve been able to do in these playoffs. They’re going to be a tough test.”
That test will come against some familiar faces. Former teammate Nate Schmidt is on the top defensive pairing for the Knights after being taken in the expansion draft by general manager George McPhee, who was the Capitals’ GM for 17 years.
“It’s special,” Backstrom said. “He (McPhee) was here for a long time, and he drafted a lot of us.”
McPhee’s Capitals teams had a lot of regular-season success. Now either he will finally lift the Stanley Cup or watch the team he helped assemble reach its expectations.
“I’m happy for us and proud of the guys here,” Oshie said. “I’m happy for the fans, too. They’ve been through some tough times with us and with teams in the past.”