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April 15, 2008

The Caps' historic comeback

by Jon Kesten, Online Foreign Desk Editor
For the first time in five years, the Washington Capitals (yes, they still exist and so does the NHL) have made the playoffs, sporting a goal-happy left-winger and snazzy new uniforms. After spending 50 days at the bottom of the Southeast Division, the team's improbable surge into the playoffs has made them the Cinderella story of the D.C. area and beyond. With Alexander Ovechkin's incredible energy, new coaching and fresh uniforms, this long-awaited playoff push is the first step in returning the team to the NHL's biggest stage the Stanley Cup.

Uniforms
Alexander Semin and Alexander Ovechkin sport the new uniforms.
Alexander Semin and Alexander Ovechkin sport the new uniforms.

The first and most obvious change in the Caps' mentality is their uniforms. No longer consistently voted the "Ugliest Uniforms in the NHL" by their own players the new "Rock the Red" campaign has taken wind as the new Capitals jersey is now the most popular purchased on NHLShop.com.

Fan base
After acknowledging that the team had lost about $100 million due to a drop in attendance, general manager George McPhee is no longer twiddling his thumbs. Following the institution of the "Rock the Red" campaign, attendance spiked and record ticket sales were posted in the month of Feb. alone.

Off-the-ice personnel
The Caps have also struggled with a consistent coach and practice facility. Last year, the organization finally opened a new practice facility in Annandale, VA to better accommodate the players. After the Caps' last playoff run five years ago, coach Glen Hanlon was hired to continue the team's winning tradition. Five years and an embarrassing below .500 record later, Hanlon has been replaced by interim coach Bruce Boudreau, a GM's dream come true who has cultivated a remarkable turnaround and impressive wins at home and on the road.
Interim head coach Bruce Boudreau has turned the Caps' into a winning team.
Interim head coach Bruce Boudreau has turned the Caps' into a winning team.


Player acquisitions
Though "Alexander the Great" would imply that Ovechkin is talent enough to carry an entire team on his shoulders, the key to the Cap's success this season has been mid-season personnel changes. After starting off the season at a dismal 6-14-1, hopes that new players such as Viktor Kozlov and Swedish prodigy Nicklas Backstrom were nearly completely dismissed. But, the unexpected contributions of backup goaltender Cristobal Huet, who replaced veteran Olaf Kolzig and posted two shut outs with a record of 11-2 in the middle of the playoff push breathed life into a stagnant team. The influence of newly acquired veteran Sergei Federov has also been key, who in conjunction with fellow Russian phenoms Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin make for one of the NHL's most potent lines.

Alexander Ovechkin
The ill-spoken 22-year-old already in his third NHL season continues to make his point. This year, he made history by scoring 65 goals in the regular season and becoming the first-ever Russian-born player to win the scoring title. Although the MVP award for the league will not be announced for another two weeks, Ovie's domination over opposing defenses and ability to score more goals than any other left-winger in NHL history perfectly compliments his "Rookie of the Year" award he received two years ago.

Playoffs
The Washington Capitals finished in third place in the Eastern Conference, beating out the Carolina Hurricanes for the playoff spot. With a cumulative record of 47-31-8, this feat marks one of the largest turnarounds in history.
Fans at the Verizon Center participate in the "Rock the Red" campaign for the playoffs.
Fans at the Verizon Center participate in the "Rock the Red" campaign for the playoffs.

The team's current focus is on the Philadelphia Flyers in the best-of-seven quarterfinal round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Their playoff debut on April 11 showed a promising squad. Down two goals in the third period, the Capitals came back and won the game in a fitting manner with an Alexander Ovechkin game-winning goal. But, two days later, the Capitals were bested by the Flyers, who scored twice in the game's first few minutes. The eventual score was a disappointing 2-0 shutout for the Capitals, their first in months.

Outlook
While many Caps fans are nervous about the success of the team in the playoffs, history has proven that momentum and potential can be two of the most influential factors in post-season games. Currently the series with the Flyers is tied at 1-1, but the Caps travel to Philadelphia twice this week. Their next home game is Sat. Apr 19 at 1:00 p.m.

All photographs courtesy of Getty images



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  • . on April 16, 2008 at 8:12 AM
    southeast jon! southeast!!!
  • michael johnson (View Email) on April 16, 2008 at 10:23 PM
    nice article, im pissed the lost those two last games. I went to the 2-0 shutout, i was blown
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