The Verizon Center is always full now when the Washington Capitals hit the ice, whether it is a weekend contest against a rival or a midweek tilt with a lowly foe. It wasn’t always this way, but one remarkable run to finish the 2007-08 season changed everything.
Washington has had its moments when the Capitals were a big ticket in the past, but those were typically fleeting. Adding players like Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom brought hope, but it took a memorable march to the playoffs for hockey to really take hold in this city.
“That’s where it all began,” Mike Green said. “People were aware of us, but when we made that push at the end of the season there and went into the playoffs – that is when the city really turned around and started supporting us and made it a great environment to play in.”
New coach Bruce Boudreau had rallied the Capitals from last place in the NHL, but the team was still on the outside looking in mid-March. Needing something approaching a miracle, Ovechkin and the Capitals produced one.
Seven straight victories to close the regular season, including a crazy comeback win in Atlanta, two wins against division-leader Carolina and one final triumph on the season’s final day – a 3-1 victory against Florida in front of a raucous Chinatown crowd – to push past the Hurricanes and secure not only a playoff spot but also a Southeast Division title.
“It was a really special time because every game was do-or-die for more than a month,” Matt Bradley said. “It was like a snowball effect – it just kept building and building and the last couple games at home were like a playoff atmosphere.”
There were several points along the way when it appeared the Capitals were dead. Losses in five of six in February, a brutal weekend with third-period meltdowns against Boston and Pittsburgh and even a 5-0 rout in Chicago – any of those points could have been it.
But that group persevered, and the reward was a burgeoning hockey town. The team set a franchise record for sell outs last season en route to a second-straight division title, and this year the Capitals will sell out all 41 home contests and collect a third consecutive Southeast crown.
“We couldn’t afford to lose one game, and sometimes when your back is up against the wall you find a way to succeed and push through,” Green said. “I remember there was not one moment when we didn’t think we were going to make it.”