Ovechkin, Caps Finally Raise Their Stanley Cup Banner

After all of their individual days with the Stanley Cup from Moscow to Minnesota, all of the fountain-diving and beer-guzzling, the parade and the diamond-encrusted rings, Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals got to do something else new for the franchise: raise a banner signifying an NHL championship.

The team and its fans finally enjoyed that rite Wednesday night, before opening the regular season by hosting the Boston Bruins.

"The atmosphere is going to be unbelievable," Ovechkin said. "The people are going to be happy. Some might even cry."

The Cup itself, now etched with his name, was on the ice for the banner ceremony. Then the Capitals played hockey that counts for the first time since a 4-3 victory on Lars Eller's goal in Game 5 against the Vegas Golden Knights back in June.

"Once that banner goes up, it'll be nice closure for everyone that what happened was real," forward T.J. Oshie said Tuesday after Washington practiced. "And we can start focusing on the future and trying to do this thing again." 

There is a different coach in charge of Washington — Barry Trotz left when he didn't get the sort of contract he wanted and was replaced by one of his assistants, Todd Reirden — but otherwise, not much has changed: 18 of the 19 players who appeared in the Cup-clinching game are still around.

"The systems and stuff, it's all the same. So it's pretty straightforward," goalie Braden Holtby said about the switch from Trotz to Reirden. "Obviously they have different personalities and it's going to take some adjusting for everyone, but that almost can be a good thing in that way, because we do have almost the same roster coming back and when you have that happen, complacency can sometimes set in, just because everything's the same. That little change might help us stay fresh and stay excited about things."

What's entirely, and inalterably, changed is the whole vibe around the Capitals, who have been around since 1974 and only once before even made it as far as the conference finals. The longtime core of Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom never had been past the second round of the postseason. 

Whatever sense of doom and gloom that hung over their team for years has now disappeared.

"All the talk of jinxes and things like that," Oshie said, "people can kind of get out of their minds."

Ovechkin, Oshie and Backstrom were among the Capitals who had to sit through a banner-raising as the opponent two years ago in Pittsburgh, when Sidney Crosby and the rest of the rival Penguins celebrated a championship.

Wednesday was Washington's turn.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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