The Capitals’ ride to the Stanley Cup Final has been an exercise in exorcising demons.
A quick recap: In the first round, they overcame a 0-2 start at home to win four straight against the Columbus Blue Jackets to take the series, keeping their doubters at bay, momentarily. They then finally vanquished the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round, a team that had slain them over and over again in the playoffs in recent years. And to reach the Cup Final, they came back from a 3-2 deficit (losing three straight) to defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 away.
The Capitals have done a lot of winning away from Capital One Arena in these playoffs. Their record on the road stands at 9-3 after their latest triumph: a 3-2 win against the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 2 of the Cup Final at T-Mobile Arena on Wednesday.
Now, in their finest hour, and with their first franchise win in the Cup Final under their belt, the Caps have one final hurdle to leap over if they’re to win the hockey’s holy grail: win at home.
Such things haven’t come easy for Washington.
While their road record in these playoffs is impeccable (the Caps had the eighth-best road record during the regular season), home hasn’t necessarily been where the heart is for Washington during their run.
The Capitals have struggled to a 4-5 record thus far and have yet to win their first game at home during any series in these playoffs.
As mentioned, they dropped both games in the opening round to the Blue Jackets and then lost the first game against the Penguins before losing Games 3 and 4 against the Lightning.
And intrepid observer would note that the Capitals have managed to get by without winning at home in the playoffs. While true, Vegas’ loss on Wednesday was just their second at home in the playoffs. It’s an anomaly, and Washington needs to take advantage of the fact that they wrestled home-ice advantage away from the Golden Knights after earning the split.
“To come away with a split is good but now we move forward and have to take advantage of our home rink,” Holtby said following Game 3.
Ah, one more bout with adversity for old times’ sake.
Added Capitals head coach Barry Trotz: “We’ve had everything thrown at us and this group is extremely resilient.”
The Caps did what seemed impossible in beating Vegas in their own barn, where the latter’s only other loss came in double overtime against the San Jose Sharks in the second round.
Now they must reverse history as the series reverts to Washington.
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub