From coming back from 0-2 against Columbus to defeating their arch rivals in Pittsburgh to beating the hottest team in hockey in the Golden Knights to more recently finding their homes/beds after a 24 hour bender across the DC area, these Capitals have shown they are up for every challenge that comes their way. And as the Hurricane Ovechkin party tour winds down and these players go their separate ways for the offseason, they leave behind a city that has now tasted victory and wants more of it. So the real question for this Capitals team is this: can they transform this city into the “District of Champions”?
To do so, they would have to have left some of that championship mojo back at Nats Park after celebrating with the Cup (and a few dozen beers) at Saturday’s game. The Caps Stanley Cup championship coupled with this iteration of a powerhouse roster for the Nats give this city its best chance at back to back titles in the 4 major professional sports. Could the Nationals do the unthinkable and hoist the World Series trophy only 6 months after DC hoists the Stanley Cup? It’s very possible but in order to do so, the Nats will have needed to learn a few things from their drunken compadres on the ice.
The first lesson from this Stanley Cup run is that stars need to play like stars when it counts most. For all the talk of Ovechkin disappearing in big games, he, along with Kuzy, Backstrom, and Wilson, were all over the stat sheet throughout the playoff run and specifically the series against the Golden Knights. The Nats will need their superstars to step up come playoff time, meaning Max Scherzer will need to make up for last year’s disastrous Game 5 showing against Chicago and Bryce will need to bat better than his current .231 average.
Secondly, coaches must coach to win and not just to not lose. No decision made more of an impact in this playoff run than Barry Trotz’s decision to bench goalie Philip Grubhauer for backup Braden Holtby. Holtby rewarded the coach’s gutsy decision with incredible performances, including back to back shutouts against Tampa Bay to save that series. In years past, Nats managers, riddled with crazy high expectations, have coached scared, not willing to shake things up when things seemed perilous. In order to win the big one, Davey Martinez and his staff will need to make tough calls and be wiling to shake things up when need be.
Finally, the greatest lesson from the Capitals playoff run is just how much this city will get behind a championship team. For all of the haters and naysayers (looking at you Wilbon) that call DC a “minor league sports town”, this Stanley Cup run showed just how hungry this city is for a winner and the lengths we are willing to go to root them on and carry them to victory. So the Nats would be wise to remember that come October, that if they can get over the proverbial hump (insert Camel joke here), then they will be showered with the most insane love and gratitude and loyalty that this city has to offer. And for a city not known for its loyalty, that ain’t nothing.