The first thing you notice about the newly released 10 Greatest Capitals Games DVD collection is its Ovi-centric-ness: five of the ten games come from the Capitals’ past five seasons. There is, unfortunately, an unavoidably practical reason for this. Put bluntly, Ted Leonsis didn’t own the Capitals in the 1970s, ’80s, or most of the ’90s. The previous ownership regime apparently just didn’t much feel like preserving the heritage of this hockey club with video.
He haunts us still from his grave.
I can say this because when I asked the Capitals about the conspicuous absence of some of the team’s indisputably best games, I was told that video for many of them just wasn’t in their possession. And take note: The Chicago Blackhawks released their ‘Best of’ DVD collection last Tuesday just as the Caps did, and their collection has Stanley Cup finals footage from 1961 in it, as well as other cornerstone moments from the franchise’s history, such as saying farewell to Chicago Stadium.
That got me wondering: in a perfect Capitals’ DVD collection, should some manner of ode to the Big Pringle, the Capital Centre, be included? I think so. It was after all home to hockey in the Washington region from 1974 to 1997.
It certainly wasn’t the case that in working with the NHL on this project the Capitals didn’t want to include more vintage video. They simply couldn’t. It helps to have in place an ownership and management structure that cares about legacy and history.
Should the Capitals — again, under the previous regime — have allotted baseline resources to chronicling the team’s first quarter century of existence? I think so. Most grizzled veteran local hockey fans would probably agree with me. It would be interesting I think to survey what volume of video today exists for all basketball seasons within Washington Sports. But alas, this abject neglect of the hockey past, which one Capitals’ official described to me this week as “tragic” and “atrocious,” is what it is.
And here is what it is:
- 10: Ovi’s hat trick in game 2 against Pittsburgh last May, one matched by Sidney in a losing effort;
- 9: Game 7 versus the Rags last April;
- 8: Game 1 versus the Flyers in 2008;
- 7: Caps winning the Southeast and qualifying for the postseason in the last game of the season against Florida, April 5, 2008;
- 6: Ovi scores 4 goals against the Habs while enduring a broken nose, January 31, 2008;
- 5: Bruce Boudreau’s first game behind the Caps’ bench, Novemver 23, 2007;
- 4: Ovi’s first Caps’ game, against Columbus, October 5, 2005;
- 3: Juneau catapults the Caps to their first-ever Stanley Cup finals, June 4, 1998;
- 2: Game 1 of the 1996 Eastern Conference quarterfinals when the Caps overcame a 4-1 deficit to beat Mario, Jaromir, and the Pens 6-4;
- 1: Huntsy vanquishes the Flyers in overtime of game 7!
No doubt, this compilation gets no. 1 of all time right, and by virtue of its inclusion, it’s probably a value buy at $50. Put it this way: in the dog days of this summer, when I’m seriously missing hockey, you think I won’t devote one July Saturday night to a six-pack and that game?
But Bruce Boudreau’s first game? And the Caps’ game 7 win over the Rangers last spring was an incredibly dull and discouraging affair through 54 minutes. It’s got one mega moment. A serious sigh of relief moment. But again, the Caps had their hands seriously tied in this endeavor.
Any ‘Best of’ list for a sports franchise in its fifth decade of existence must establish some baseline criteria by which to select 10 standout games. Without one, the list could veer wildly and indiscriminately from games featuring primarily great slugfests to symbolic affairs such as a first game in a new arena.
So about a week ago Ed Frankovic, Caps’ blogger for Baltimore WNST, and I decided to devise our own list of the 10 Greatest Caps’ Games of All Time. Ed was the perfect partner for this endeavor. For one thing, like me, he’s rarely mistaken for a youthful blogger in the Caps’ press box, and with experience comes fluency with the past. More importantly, he and his family have a rich association with the organization: Ed’s father, also named Ed, covered the Caps for WMLD and then the Prince George’s Post-Sentinel upon its inception in 1974-75, dragging his son, who was just 9 years old in that first season, to numerous games and getting him hooked on hockey. From 1984-1988 the younger Ed began covering the Caps and other area teams, for the Prince George’s Post-Sentinel. In 1987, he earned an opportunity to work for the team on game nights doing statistics for the GM and coaches. That opportunity turned into a 10-year stint as a Washington Capitals statistician, from 1987 through 1997.
During his time as a Capitals statistician Frankovic worked for GM David Poile and each of the team’s various head coaches (Brian Murray, Terry Murray, and Jim Schoenfeld). In the summer of 2007, Frankovic was asked to write a blog on his newly founded website for WNST. He has turned that primarily into a hockey blog with a focus on the Washington Capitals.
Ed and I decided to try and identify 10 games that (1) carried inordinate significance for the franchise, and have aged as such, and (2) could offer compelling rationale for favored status among most fans. The Capitals’ Mike Vogel correctly pointed out to us that there are some wildly entertaining Caps’ games in which gloves and sticks were more often tossed about the ice than carried by players in play. But as a best game in franchise history? We didn’t think so. But a primary motivation for pursuing this endeavor is to invite readers’ compilations; we absolutely want to learn what games have meant the most to you over the years you have followed the Caps. We also feel strongly that no Capitals’ losses be included — who wants to watch that?
Ed and I agreed that a truly representative list of 10 best games would have to de-emphasize the Era of Ovechkin. No disrespect to the captain, but his reign, in the context of the overall life of the franchise, has been brief. We also strongly believed that the 1980s — the Era of Bryan Murray — needed greater representation. There were three 100-point Caps’ clubs then. Again, in our talks with the Capitals over the past week about this, they were in complete agreement with our thinking. Here then is the Best-Games list Ed and I came up with — and if you don’t check out the detail-rich reminiscing Ed has generated over at his blog in this endeavor, you’re missing out on a true Caps’ hockey historian’s gift to his readers:
- (10): The Edmonton Massacre. On February 5, 1984, the Capitals obliterated the Edmonton Oilers at Capital Centre by the score of 9-2. This was notable for a number of reasons. First and foremost, ’83-’84 was a pretty special Oilers club: they won their first Cup that season. And earlier in the season, the Caps had lost 11-3 in Edmonton. And back home a week later, the Caps lost 7-4 to Wayne & Co. The Great One was sidelined with flu on Reckoning day, but the rest of the dynastic Oil was dressed — and pummeled. This was a major statement game for a franchise still struggling to gain recognition and respect.
- (9): Ovi’s four goals and a broken nose vs. the Habs, 1/31, 08. Here we’re in agreement with the Caps, just in a different ranking.
- (8): Game 3, April 12, 1986, Caps win 3-1 over the Islanders and sweep the best-of-five series. This was a landmark postseason triumph for the Caps over a Patrick division foe who’d tormented them over the first half of the decade, winning all three previous series. It was a triumph so special that Channel 20 remained live on air in the Capitals’ jubilant locker room for upwards of 45 minutes, recording the elation of player after player.
- (7): Gus goes for 5 against Philly — on just 5 shots! On January 8, 1984, Capitals’ center Bengt Gustafsson authored an individual scoring performance the likes of which had never been seen in a red sweater — and may not be seen ever again. He scored five goals in the Philadelphia Spectrum, on just five shots, leading a beautiful beatdown of the Orange and Black to the tune of 7-1.
- (6): Ovi’s debut, October 5, 2005. Here again we agree with the Caps in its inclusion, despite the fact that an opening night game can’t carry truly great importance. But symbolically this evening was monumentally important, and a soldout Verizon Center seemed to recognize it. Ovi’s two-goal, glass-smashing performance was prescient. A new and vastly improved era was dawning.
- (5): Druce on the Loose! On April 27, 1990, in game 5 of the Patrick division finals, John Druce scored his fourth game-winning goal of the early postseason, in overtime, catapulting the Capitals to their first-ever Eastern conference finals. After scoring just 8 goals during the regular season Druce exploded for 14 in the postseason, a clutch performance so singularly spectacular that it’s referenced still 20 years later. Druce’s exclusion from the official best of DVD collection is a high crime and felony against the Pollin family.
- (4): Flyers vanquished in first-ever postseason series win. On April 7, 1984, the Capitals defeated Philly in a series-ending laugher, 5-1, sweeping the best-of-five set in three games for their first ever playoff series triumph. Doing it in Philly was especially sweet. The game-winning goal came off the stick of Craig Laughlin.
- (3): Ovi matches Sid’s hat trick in Game 2, on May 4, 2009, but the good guys win. Here we are in agreement with the official DVD compliation, but we place a far greater weight to its importance.
- (2): Juneau sends the Caps past Buffalo and into the Stanley Cup finals. The DVD compilation is disappointing with this game in its meager offerings of the jubilation aftermath. I wanted to see Caps’ players and trainers and coaches hugging on the ice for minutes after Joe Juneau tapped in a loose puck past Dominik Hasek, just as ESPN originally showed. Anyway, I was in a Bethesda, Md., bar that night watching the game with a high school buddy, and the two of us kissed strangers well into the night. It might also have been nifty to include some footage of the remarkable reception the team received in the middle of the night upon its return to its Piney Orchard training facility. Local TV could have provided that.
- (1): Huntsy breaks Hexy’s heart in Game 7, April 16, 1988. The Marlboro moment for Capitals’ fans. Down three games to one in the series, and 3-0 in game 7, the Caps valiantly battle back, force OT, and then #32 ends it going 5-hole on he we so hated. So lovely.
So that’s our list. Come at us with your own. We really want to know what Caps’ games over the past 35 years you hold dearest in your hockey heart. And most especially, if you have video of these or other great Capitals’ games of the past, by all means get them shipped over to Kettler pronto. You have an ownership group there who loves hockey.