23 April, 2014


What Are Your 10 Best Caps’ Games of All Time?

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.



21 Comments

  1. The Peerless wrote:

    “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.”

    And, it was the first Caps game I attended after moving to this area.

    1 April, 2010 at 8:01 am | Permalink
  2. JonnyP wrote:

    I agree that it’s too bad the Capitals DVD boxset didn’t include some older games … I’d even go as far as rewatching some games the Caps lost, but were still important games. Ironically when I told another longtime Caps fan about the boxset I pre-ordered, his first response was “Did the Caps win all ten games?” All in all though, the boxset seems to be in chronological order (thus not having a “ranking system” as you mention throughout the post), and is hopefully a good springboard for the newer Caps fans to look into the history of the team. Plus at $35ish shipped from the WB Shop … it’s well worth the cost. (http://tinyurl.com/ydpotdu)

    For me growing up, one of my biggest memories was the “Easter Epic” … I remember watching that whole game, collapsing at the end (maybe crying but I was 9), and falling asleep on the couch in the basement. Not telling my parents what time I went to sleep.

    1 April, 2010 at 9:49 am | Permalink
  3. Peerless,

    I hate to suggest this, but you may have peaked with that first game. Ed and I were there, too. It was just a surreal beatdown, a powerful reminder of how good BMurray’s Caps were in those days.

    1 April, 2010 at 10:21 am | Permalink
  4. Bill Melater wrote:

    Love these picks. I was at #s 8, 5 and 1. I’d also nominate the 8-1 beatdown in the ’86 playoffs against the Rangers. Tha Cap Centre didn’t have the fancy “game day experience” that the Phone Booth has, but many of those games in the ’80s were just as electric.

    Ahhh, the “Easter Epic”, aka “The Night of the Skating Dead.” It was like a bunch of zombies leaving the parking lot that night. On of my buddies had to leave at the end of regulation to pick his girlfriend up at BWI. They made it back in time for plenty of more hockey.

    1 April, 2010 at 10:40 am | Permalink
  5. Christopher wrote:

    “He haunts us still from his grave.” Ugh. The Abe Pollin hate on the blog is just so despicable… priorities people, priorities…

    1 April, 2010 at 11:19 am | Permalink
  6. Langway’s OT winner against the Rangers in the 1990 playoffs has to be on there too. No goals all season, and he scores the winner (after keeping the puck in on Mike Gartner trying to poke it past him and break out) to put us up 3-1 in the series.

    Druce won that series at MSG, so this was the home celebration.

    1 April, 2010 at 11:31 am | Permalink
  7. My priority, thin-skinned Christopher, is remembering history so as to try and help ensure that its weakpoints aren’t repeated. And a reckoning two or three times a year I don’t think can fairly be termed obsessive or excessive.

    Sometimes the truth hurts, it’s true.

    1 April, 2010 at 12:12 pm | Permalink
  8. Mark wrote:

    A game I saw live that I’d love to see again is Feb. 19, 1980, when the Capitals beat the Montreal Canadiens for the first time, on a game-winning goal by Bengt Gustafsson (and empty net goal by Mike Gartner). It was “guaranteed win night” — meaning that if they lost, as they had 34 times before — you’d get a free ticket to another game. The Hunter OT game is one I’ve watched many times. Some people forget that the Caps dug themselves a 3-0 hole before winning.

    1 April, 2010 at 1:02 pm | Permalink
  9. The_Spear wrote:

    Game six of the Eastern qtrs as well as game two of the eastern finals of the ’98 cup run, still are my two favorite Caps games.

    Game six, because that team was filled with players that had choked away two series leads against the Pens in their two previous trips to the playoffs. After taking a 3-1 lead in the series before being blanked in game five, at least in my mind, I had that sinking feeling that this playoff run would end in the same fashion. I remember when Brian Bellows scored the goal, I could hardly believe that they had really survived and were moving onto the next round.

    After losing game one of the eastern finals to Buffalo, it seemed the Caps could throw everything including the kitchen sink at the Sabers and Hasek was going to stop it. His play was so supuruib up to that point that one goal by the Sabers and you got the feeling he could make it stand for the rest of the game. I figured that with the Caps less then stellar O, this would be a short series. The team not only won the game, but also got in Hasek’s head a bit when Bondra ran him over.

    1 April, 2010 at 1:51 pm | Permalink
  10. Hittman wrote:

    My favorite Caps game has yet to be played.

    1 April, 2010 at 3:22 pm | Permalink
  11. Frank wrote:

    as for the notion that the Caps didn’t have footage of some of these games…. wouldn’t it have been possible to check with the other teams if they did?

    I haven’t watched these, but have been told that they aren’t all from the local broadcasts anyway, so even if it was the other teams’ feeds, just to include them would/could have worked, no?

    1 April, 2010 at 3:43 pm | Permalink
  12. Paul Nichols wrote:

    I agree with the previous Paul: As I was reading through the list, I remember blowing a gasket when Langway scored (from the left circle?) to win it against the Rangers.

    And, why not the first ever home playoff game against the Islanders? I was there, and still have the ragged pom-pom they gave out. We lost, but you always remember your first…

    1 April, 2010 at 3:56 pm | Permalink
  13. Remember that the further back you go in time, (particularly toward pre-cable) the less likely you are to find an outlet that broadcast pro hockey games. But by the early to mid ’80s that Caps hade their home games aired on HTS. But the road games not nearly so consistently. Channel 20 carried oh I guess 10-15 a year. On the new release, the feeds are from HTS, ESPN, and for the recent stuff Comcast. But remember that ESPN didn’t televise every NHL playoff game.

    1 April, 2010 at 4:59 pm | Permalink
  14. Ted wrote:

    Game 3 of the ’98 Boston series was ridiculous.

    2 April, 2010 at 12:43 am | Permalink
  15. Kerl Samuelson wrote:

    TFor example, there should have been a game from the 70′s. Although the Caps had more than their share of challenges in that decade, there were great games and moments, such as when Tony White scored his 20th goal.

    2 April, 2010 at 10:19 am | Permalink
  16. Kevin A wrote:

    I would agree that the list doesn’t do justice to the great teams of the Eighties. That was phenomenal hockey. I hate to bring up Larry Murphy, but I recently heard him on NHL Live talking about playing for those Caps teams and how great they were and seemed to imply that they were definitely Cup calibre teams that just could never seem to get the breaks to go their way. Coming from someone who didn’t just win the Cup but did it with the multiple Cup winning teams in Pittsburgh and Detroit, I thought that showed a tremendous amount of respect for those Caps teams. Another dynamic from the 80s not shared by the current team is the Patrick Division. The intensity and rivalries, not just between the players but also between their fans, is unmatched. Even today, after all this time, Philly and Pittsburgh games seem to be a bigger deal than any of the Southeast Division teams. That intensity really added something special to those games. I would agree with the list of best 80s games already posted by everyone.

    Going back further, I would love to hear long-time voice of the Caps Ron Weber’s views of the greatest Caps games. One from the 70s that stood out for me, and there really isn’t much to work with, was a Guaranteed Win Night against the Montreal Canadiens of the Dryden, LaFleur and Robinson era. I think it was about the fourth or fifth season and we still hadn’t beaten Montreal. Everyone in attendance would have recieved a free ticket to a future game if the Caps lost. But they actually pulled it off. I remember Montreal putting on some tremendous empty net pressure at the end and some incredible hustle and a bunch of blocked shots by the Caps to preserve the win. That was great, I don’t remember much of the other details, does anyone else remember that one?

    2 April, 2010 at 2:25 pm | Permalink
  17. Ted wrote:

    I heard a story where after the Miracle on Ice on TV they interviewed a fan who said Team USA beaing the Soviets was like the Caps beating the Canadiens, and I think the Caps had never beaten the Canadiens. Needless to say, the Caps beat the Canadidens for the first time after that.

    2 April, 2010 at 11:48 pm | Permalink
  18. Zalewski wrote:

    In Jhon Kordic 5 game stint with the caps their was a game aginst the flyers, It was at the time and may still be the club record for pen/min in one game. The goalies had a go at one point.

    I remember getting Kordic to auto a puck on way out. His hands were swollen and his auto was barely readable!

    It was a game I will never forget!

    3 April, 2010 at 2:39 pm | Permalink
  19. Chuck wrote:

    My favorite Caps game of all time was when they faced the Cincinnati Stingers of the WHA in Hampton, Virginia. I believe it was October 6, 1977. It marks the Capitals first game in Virginia. It marks the first NHL game in Virginia. The Caps lost the game 4-2. Bernie Wolfe and Jim Bedard shared the netminding duties for the Caps in this exhibition game.

    3 April, 2010 at 2:44 pm | Permalink
  20. Dan wrote:

    Agree with all your comments. There were also some great Peter Bondra moments missing from the list (not that I think they should replace any of the Top 10…..just need to expand). I recall a 4 goal game or two from him as well as some last second heroics.

    3 April, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Permalink
  21. Uriah wrote:

    Love the Kaminski pic, brings back memories. He was such a nut.

    14 April, 2010 at 4:05 am | Permalink

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