TAMPA -- Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis admitted he suspected there was something different about his team this season than in previous years.
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He was right. The Capitals are going to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1998, a year before Leonsis took ownership of the team.
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"I just sensed something toward the end of this season that there was a grit and determination about this bunch that was different than in the past," Leonsis said after the Capitals played their way into the Cup Final by defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-0 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final at Amalie Arena on Wednesday. "They never got too high with the highs. They never got too low with the lows. Even tonight. So, I'm proud of them and let's give them a day to heal and relax and we'll start to worry about the next round."
The Capitals will play the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final. Game 1 of the best-of-7 series is in Las Vegas on Monday (8 p.m. ET: NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS). Vegas general manager George McPhee was the Capitals GM from 1997-2014 and acquired 14 of the 26 players on Washington's current roster.
"Not even going to think about it yet," Leonsis said when asked what the next few weeks will be like.
Leonsis instead had his mind on what his team accomplished and what was happening back in Washington, where an estimated 10,500 fans watched the game inside Capital One Arena and then dispersed onto the streets to celebrate, congregating on the steps of the National Portrait Gallery across 7th Street NW from the arena.
"I'm honestly more happy for the city and the fans," Leonsis said. "I want so much to have them be proud of us and to build a team that's as good as the fanbase. I know there are so many people at Capital One Arena tonight and they're probably all over at the steps. That's what I envision. That's what I want. I really think nothing brings a city closer together than a winning sports team and I think we'll be able to show that.
"There is something about this team. It's clicked in. You can just feel it."
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