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Capitals eager to experience Stanley Cup Final against Golden Knights

Ovechkin, Backstrom, Beagle among group that has played more than 10 seasons in Washington

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS -- On the list of long-suffering Washington Capitals, Alex Ovechkin's name ranks first. He has been in Washington for 13 seasons, seen the disappointments, ridden the ups and the downs, a member of teams that were supposed to be here, in this position, in the Stanley Cup Final, but weren't.

But he's not the only one.

There is forward Nicklas Backstrom and his 11 seasons in Washington. There is forward Jay Beagle and his 10. There is defenseman John Carlson and his nine. There is goaltender Braden Holtby and his eight. All have seen what the Capitals have been and have not been over the past decade. All are here now, at the pinnacle of their careers, able to drink it all in.

And ready for it to begin.

 

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"Obviously so excited to get this going," Beagle said. "It seems like from Game 7 to now it's been like three weeks."

It's been four days since the Capitals defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, sending them to their first Stanley Cup Final since 1998. The best-of-7 series against the Vegas Golden Knights begins with Game 1 at T-Mobile Arena on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).

"It's pretty special," Carlson said. "Being such a good team for a while and not really breaking through with any significance I think makes this one a lot more special. Not that I don't think we maybe deserved a little bit different fate before this, but certainly if you stick to something that is easy to go astray from, it's that much more special if you're able to accomplish it."

Over the past 11 seasons, the Capitals have made the Stanley Cup Playoffs 10 times, missing in 2014. They have made it to the Eastern Conference Second Round six times, never advancing past that round, never making good on their promise.

That group has seen it all.

"I think that obviously makes it a little more special," Beagle said.

Video: Ovechkin on facing Vegas, excitement in Russia

They have been spoiled, in some ways, always contending, always in the mix. But they have been devastated in others, always not quite good enough.

"You kind of almost take it for granted, and then you miss the playoffs one year and it's a shock and it just is the worst feeling ever," Beagle said. "I've been really blessed to be with this organization and to be with the group of guys that have been here because it's a group that always contends and even though we've come up short in the past, we always had a feeling that this core group had what it takes to go deep."

There's a reason for that happening this season, at least in Carlson's eyes. He has seen a different approach, one that has continued through their win against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round, the Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final, and into the Cup Final.

It's the way they felt in Game 7. On Media Day on Sunday. It's the way he anticipates them feeling when they take the ice for the biggest game of their careers as members of the Capitals.

"I think this year we've probably relaxed the most out of any other year," Carlson said. "I think that's a big reason why we've had success and a big reason why we're playing with confidence.

"When you fail as much as we have in the past, it's easy to put too much pressure on yourself."

That ability has been crucial, and will be in the games ahead. As Carlson added, it's allowed them to "realize that we're all a little bit too high strung."

But they haven't been this season, helped by players who haven't suffered as much as they have, who have brought a fresh perspective to a small group of Capitals that have been together for a long time, a group that finally gets to experience what it always seemed destined to experience.

A moment that they get to revel in, to enjoy. But not too much.

"I think we're doing a really good job of just staying in the moment and then enjoying every moment, the opportunity to keep playing," Holtby said. "But everything else, that's for the offseason and the future, where you can think about that. Right now we're just one moment at a time trying to enjoy the ride, take in the views, and be our best selves."

They have, after all, waited long enough.

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