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PHT Stanley Cup Tracker: Caviar in the Cup, Red Square visit, tour of Czech Republic

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The PHT Stanley Cup tracker will keep tabs on how the Washington Capitals spend their summer celebrating

Last time in the chronicles of the Cup, Alex Ovechkin had taken the mug home to Russia, where it visited the World Cup and where Ovechkin’s dad, Mikhail, got to lift Lord Stanley for the first time.

Of course, no trip to Russia would be complete without a trip to Red Square. Ovechkin, obviously aware of this, showed up to the iconic setting unprompted with the Cup.

It’s not certain what the most expensive thing that has been eaten out of the mug bit of the Stanley Cup — cereal, expensive booze, etc., has all made its way into the bowl — but we’ll assume filling it with caviar is right up there.

Michal Kempny, fresh of signing a new deal with the Capitals, got his chance to take Stanley home to the Czech Republic.

Kempny’s hometown of Hodonin was treated to a good time in the Cup’s first foray into the eastern portion of the country.

Of course, the Cup got to ride shotgun again as Kempny head to his hometown rink for a meetup with fans and a Q&A.

The Cup wasn’t done in the Czech Republic after Kempny’s time with it, however.

Hockey’s holy grail then headed to the nation’s capital of Prague to see Jakub Vrana.

Vrana was joined by Kempny and Andre Burakovsky during his day, and also had Washington Wizards point guard Tomas Satoransky join in on the fun.

And, of course, mom and dad got their chance.

The Cup tour will take a much-needed break this week as it makes it’s way back to domestic soil. In two week’s time, Stanley will visit Minnesota and North Dakota, including time spent with Matt Niskanen and T.J. Oshie.

Lord Stanley’s itinerary can be found here.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Highlights from Capitals’ Stanley Cup parade

After a few days of parading the Stanley Cup around the nation’s capital, swimming in public fountains, and just doing anything they can to go nuts in celebration of their first ever championship, the Washington Capitals finally had their official victory parade on Tuesday.

Based on what has unfolded over the past few days it was every bit as wild as you might have imagined it to be.

First, the National Mall with celebration sandwiched between the Capitol building and Washington Monument made for one of the coolest settings a championship celebration could take place in.

Thousands upon thousands of raucous fans made sure to pack the space.

Then the players took over.

There was Jakub Vrana, one of the goal-scorers in the Capitals’ Game 5 series-clinching win, dancing on stage.

There was a “We are the Champions” sing-a-long.

Perhaps the weirdest moment of the day featured T.J. Oshie chugging a bottle of bud light … through his jersey? 

Hey, whatever works for you, man…

Then the whole thing ended with team captain Alex Ovechkin taking the stage and repeating his promise from before the season that the Capitals were “not going to be the suck” this season.

Well, this time he said it a little more colorfully.

Yes, the Capitals and their fans are going to enjoy this summer. Quite a bit. After all of the disappointment that followed the fanbase and organization around for the past four decades they certainly earned it.

Related: Capitals congratulate Golden Knights with full-page ad

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Ovechkin, Holtby set to guest on The Tonight Show

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There will be some must-see TV on Monday night.

Alex Ovechkin, made famous in recent hours by such exploits a this and this, and Braden Holtby, who has done this, and this in roughly the same timeframe, will stumble their way onto the set of NBC’s The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on Monday.

The two 2018 Stanley Cup champions will grace the legendary stage at 11:35 p.m. ET. 

[RELATED: Capitals enjoy day with Stanley Cup at Nationals game]

It remains to be seen if either man will have sobered up by the airing of the episode.

There’s evidence out there that suggests the Conn Smythe winner Ovechkin took a slight break from his onslaught on liquor bottles and swimming in two-inch deep bodies of water.

Meanwhile, Capitals forward Jakub Vrana did many things on Saturday, including getting tattoos of their Stanley Cup triumph with Andre Burakovsky.

His whole Instagram story is something to behold, and if you have some free seconds, should watch it in its entirety.

Here’s a sneak peek:

This might be the greatest Stanley Cup victory celebration since this:


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Capitals’ ‘under the radar’ season lessened pressure entering playoffs

LAS VEGAS — The expectations from the outside were different this year. Playoffs, sure, but while the Washington Capitals went through another successful regular season, one capped off with yet another division title, they entered the Stanley Cup Playoffs not high on the list of favorites.

That hadn’t been the case for some time. With previous division titles and Presidents’ Trophies, the high expectations had been attached. This spring? Not so much.

“Flying under the radar is huge,” said Capitals forward Jay Beagle during Sunday’s Stanley Cup Final Media day. “I don’t think we’ve done that here in a while. We’ve always had a stacked team and Presidents’ Trophy winning team where you’re expected to go to the Final or win the Cup. We put those expectations on ourselves as well. But with the expectations of the media and other people, it’s hard to develop your game as a team because there’s so much scrutiny going on. 

“It felt different this year because we were under the radar, there wasn’t as much pressure. I don’t know if that’s pressure from us or pressure from the outside, but it felt different. I don’t know how to describe it. It really was weird. It felt different the whole year.”

[How Golden Knights were built | How Capitals were built]

A year ago, Beagle got in his car and started the long drive from Washington D.C. to his home in Calgary. The Capitals had just lost Game 7 to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Another elimination at the hands of their longtime rivals. He said during the ride he felt “broken,” something he’d never experienced following a loss before. 

From another disappointment, however, came motivation.

“You grow a lot from a loss. That’s what I’ve learned,” Beagle said. “You grow more from a loss than from a win of a series. For the core group, that loss last year, I think we came back a lot stronger and you didn’t see it right away in the year, but you could tell the whole group knew that something was special and that this year was different. You could kind of feel that come January, February.”

Expectations from the outside may have been different, but internally the group had all the confidence that they could be playing into June. Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan was confident that despite the losses of veterans like Marcus Johansson, Karl Alzner, Kevin Shattenkirk and Justin Williams, there were younger players who could step in and contribute. His feeling became a reality watching the likes of Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana and Tom Wilson take on bigger roles and produce.

With success brought comfort for those younger players and that helped to improve the Capitals overall and aid them during this run.

With expectations unable to be met every spring, that kind of disappointment could easily slip into the minds of a team and affect them going forward. The belief never wavered in the Capitals’ dressing room.

“That makes it a little more special. When you’re younger, you don’t understand, at least I didnt, how special it is, even just to be in the playoffs,” said Beagle. “I’ve been on this team and you almost always make the playoffs every year and you kind of take it for granted, and then you miss the playoffs one year and it’s a shock. It’s the worst feeling ever. I’ve been really blessed to be with this organization and to be with a group of guys that have been here because it’s always been a group that contends.

“Even though we’ve come up short in the past, we always had a feeling that this core group had what it takes to go deep.”

2018 STANLEY CUP FINAL PREVIEW
• Who has the better forwards?
Who has better defense?
Who has better goaltending?
• Who has better special teams?

• Who has better coaching?

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
• Stanley Cup Final Schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

No contract, no problem: Trotz guides Caps into Cup final

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ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) One of the lasting images from the Capitals’ playoff run came the morning of Game 7 in the Eastern Conference final.

Usually Alex Ovechkin hustles around the rink in a hot lap prior to the morning skate. Only this time it was 55-year-old coach Barry Trotz, who answered the call from his players to do the lap.

“I was worried about the turns,” Trotz said. “The rudders haven’t been sharpened all year. … I almost bit it at the end there trying to imitate Ovi.”

The Capitals beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-0 that night to punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final, but they might’ve won Game 7 at that moment. Rarely in previous postseasons had Trotz been that relaxed, the result of an unusual situation.

Trotz went into the season without – and still doesn’t have – a contract for next season, a circumstance that almost never happens to an experienced coach of a team with legitimate postseason hopes. But in a strange way, being a lame-duck coach might’ve helped Trotz not feel the pressure of past early exits and played a positive role in getting this far.

“I think it could be the same effect on a player, too, that’s becoming a free agent,” general manager Brian MacLellan said Friday. “He’s basically becoming a free agent as a coach, and what effect does that have? Do you have your best year when you’re a free agent?”

Trotz has. Even with the fifth-most victories of any coach in NHL history, until this spring he hadn’t made it past the second round in 18 previous seasons with the Nashville Predators and Capitals. He called it “luck of the draw,” running into championship-bound teams from Detroit, Chicago and Pittsburgh.

This improbable Capitals run that continues with Game 1 of the Cup Final on Monday in Las Vegas is not luck. It’s parts Ovechkin and goaltender Braden Holtby, and also the right moves by Trotz. He called on Philipp Grubauer to start the first round in goal before switching to Holtby in Game 2 against Columbus and watching him get on a roll. He put Jakub Vrana on the top line not long before the rookie scored the winner in Game 5 against the Penguins and pushed all the right buttons on rest and preparation.

Teams tend to read cues from a head coach, and those have been positive.

“I think his demeanor has changed a little bit,” MacLellan said. “He seems a little lighter, a little looser, a little less pressure, maybe a little more freedom in terms of how he goes about things.”

Despite back-to-back Presidents’ Trophies, MacLellan and Capitals management didn’t offer Trotz an extension.

Before the playoffs, Trotz said he hadn’t lost any sleep over his status and referred questions to MacLellan and owner Ted Leonsis. In March, Leonsis said he doesn’t talk about contracts, and MacLellan has repeatedly stated that any talks would wait until after the playoffs. There are currently no vacancies in the NHL.

Toronto’s Mike Babcock is the highest-paid coach at $6.25 million, Chicago’s Joel Quenneville is next at $6 million and Montreal’s Claude Julien comes in at $5 million. Those three have combined to win the Cup five times.

Trotz’s price tag has gone up however the Final goes against the Golden Knights.

“He’s probably going to benefit from this, too,” MacLellan said. “I think he’s done a good job managing it. To come in this year with so many questions – not from my point of view the lineup questions were that a big deal – but just the emotional state of our team coming in to start the year and how to handle that, I think he’s done an outstanding job.”

Trotz survived a 10-9-1 start that culminated with 6-3 and 6-2 losses at Nashville and Colorado, and the Capitals winning 12 of their next 14 games might have saved his job. Players’ response to Trotz reading them the riot act showed he certainly hadn’t lost the room.

But a journey of self-discovery last summer went beyond not having a contract.

“It gave me just some clarity on what defines me, what defines us, what defines you,” Trotz said. “If you don’t win any awards or anything, I’m not going to look at you any different. If you’re a good person and you treat people right and you live your life right, then I’m going to think really highly of you. If you don’t, I’m not going to think so much of you. And I started getting that clarity that everybody looks for the wrong in people rather than the right and it gave me a lot of clarity. And some things happened in my life that allowed me to see that and it’s been good.”

Happy, relaxed Trotz has made more appearances in these playoffs than buttoned-down, terse Trotz. He hasn’t soured amid the road bumps this postseason.

The Capitals have followed Trotz’s even-keeled approach and even been upbeat following losses. Like his players, he’s enjoying the ride.

“Playoffs are fun,” Trotz said. “They are a grind. But they’re fun. And they should be treated as fun. They’re sort of all the hard that you have to put in just to get there and it takes even more hard work to go farther, but it is fun. I’m finding I’m having a blast during the games.”

More Stanley Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/StanleyCupFinals

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SWhyno