Although athletic misery in Washington, D.C., may not have reached the height of Cleveland’s 52-year championship drought, D.C. doesn’t exactly have great luck when it comes to sports. The Nationals have never won a playoff series. The Wizards won a single NBA championship, and that was 40 years ago. The city's football team won the Super Bowl—26 years ago.
And despite the Capitals’ recent success, the Caps have never won a Stanley Cup finals game. They made it to the finals in 1998, but were swept by the Red Wings. Not great. All this unluckiness makes it even more amazing that the Capitals will be playing for the Stanley Cup on Monday night. Due to the incredible mind of coach Barry Trotz, the talent of this year’s team, and the spectacular chemistry the players have, the Caps have the chance to finally give D.C. sports fans some solace after their years of despair. The Vegas Golden Knights are a talented team, especially for a first-year expansion franchise. Washington could beat them, but to do so, the Capitals have to bring their A game. Here are three keys to a Caps’ victory.
Holtby needs to show up.
The Knights have some strong scorers in centers William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault. Braden Holtby, although very talented, is not the best goalie in the game; he had the 58th best save percentage this season at .90. But Holtby is looking better in the playoffs, with a save percentage of .924. He even shut out the Lightning in Games 6 and 7 of the conference finals, recording 24 saves in Game 6 and 29 in Game 7.
Use the home crowd to their advantage.
Here’s a surprising statistic: The Caps are 5–5 at home in the 2018 playoffs, yet they are 8–2 in away games. Most Caps playoff series follow the same format. If they start at home, they lose the first two games. If they start away, they win the first two games. After starting at home, they win two games on the road; after starting on the road, they lose their first two home games. In fact, the Caps are 1–5 in the first two home games in each series, but 5–1 in the first two away games in each series. The Caps thrive when they are in enemy territory. They have found a way to drone out the haters, but now they need to figure out how to feed off the energy of the home crowd.
According to an analysis on hockey-graphs.com, the team that scores first has a 67% chance of winning that game. This percentage goes up even more in the playoffs, when elite defenses are facing off against each other. In the Caps’ most recent series against Tampa Bay, they scored first in every game they won; two of their three losses were after the Lightning scored first. The Caps need to score early and rely on their defense.
If the Capitals show up like they have so far in the playoffs, then they just might just be on their way to D.C.’s first major sports title in 26 years.
Photographs by (from top): Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images; Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images