This Is How the Washington Capitals Ended a 20 Year Playoff Curse

The Washington Capitals advanced to the NHL’s Eastern Conference final in early May for the first time since 1998. Here’s a little history behind the curse and what it means for the rest of the team’s season. Plus, check out page 6 to see what Braden Holtby had to say about the 20-year dry spell.

The Washington Capitals hadn’t made it to the Eastern Conference Final in 20 years

This Capitals team could go all the way this season. | Mike Carlson/Getty Images

On May 7, 2018, the Washington Capitals officially ended a 20-year dry spell. The hockey team advanced to the Eastern Conference final for the first time since 1998. Every year, Washington’s fans would crowd in front of their televisions with high hopes, only to see their favorite team get eliminated no later than the second round. But this year, the Capitals didn’t go down without a fight. And now, they’re facing Tampa Bay for a chance to make it to the Stanley Cup.

Next: It wasn’t just a curse for the Capitals. 

But they also broke the dry spell of every other Washington-area team

Bryce Harper at Citi Field on June 15, 2017 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.
Could Bryce Harper and the Nationals follow suit in 2018? | Getty Images

It wasn’t just the Capitals who had been hit with a 20-year drought. Actually, it was all four of Washington, D.C.’s sports teams: The Capitals, the Wizards, the Nationals, and the Redskins. None had advanced to a conference final in 20 years. It had been dubbed the “D.C. Sports Curse,” but there was no valid explanation for it.

Next: Here’s why the curse isn’t actually a curse. 

The ‘curse’ isn’t actually a curse — more like years of bad luck

The Capitals have been on the receiving end of a lot of bad luck. | Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The curse isn’t a real curse. On the one hand, it seems like there had to be a reason for all four teams to go exactly 20 years without any conference finals. But on the other hand, Washington doesn’t have anything to attribute their curse to except a stroke of extremely long-lasting bad luck. Most curses are the result of something happening or a decision made involving the cursed team (similar to how the “Curse of the Bambino” sent the Red Sox into a dry spell for 86 years).

Next: The Capital’s regular-season record doesn’t match their poor post-season performance. 

The Capitals have recently had outstanding regular-season records, but couldn’t make it far into the playoffs

Alex Ovechkin is one of the biggest stars in hockey. | Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Perhaps the biggest mystery surrounding the Capitals’ inability to advance (until now) is their surprisingly good regular season record. With players like Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov, it doesn’t make sense the team would struggle to get beyond the second round of playoffs. In fact, we’re looking at a team that has had the ability to win the Stanley Cup since Ovechkin joined the team in 2005. And with TJ Oshie on the team since 2015, it’s surprising it has taken this long for them to get so far.

Next: This is what officially broke the curse. 

They broke the curse by defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins, one of their biggest rivals

Evgeny Kuznetsov of the Washington Capitals looks to pass against the Tampa Bay Lightning. | Mike Carlson/Getty Images

In early May 2018, the Capitals shocked back-to-back defending champions the Pittsburgh Penguins by netting an overtime goal that would finally send the team to the Eastern Conference final — and break the curse. Kuznetsov had a breakaway goal in overtime, and Braden Holtby stopped 21 shots for the Capitals to finally give the penguins what they’d wanted to give them for so long: A loss and an elimination.

Next: Here’s what Holtby said about the rest of the Capitals’ season. 

But the players say breaking the curse means winning a Stanley Cup

Braden Holtby is gunning for a Stanley Cup. |  Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Winning the second round of playoffs may have broken the D.C. curse, but according to the Capitals, it isn’t enough. Holtby actually insisted he was unaware of the 20-year curse, though we’re not sure how. “As a group, we wanted to give our city more from a playoffs standpoint,” Holtby told The Washington Post. “More doesn’t mean a conference final. More means a Stanley Cup.” But the fans’ desperate want for the team to advance, plus some incredible plays made by the Capitals’ offense, was finally enough to push them past the Penguins. But with this new wave of confidence, will it be enough to eliminate Tampa Bay?

Next: The team brought confidence into the Eastern Conference final, but were quickly hit with reality. 

The Capitals are calm, cool, and collected, even after a loss to Tampa Bay

Despite the tough loss, the Capitals are still in it. | Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The Capitals won both games away at Tampa Bay, which may have boosted their confidence to dangerous levels. They returned home only to suffer a numbing 4-2 loss in front of thousands of fans. But this team is definitely not worried. “We all know it’s going to be a tough series,” Kuznetsov told Sports Illustrated. “We just have to relax a little bit and stay positive. It’s still fun.”

If the Capitals end up making it to the Stanley Cup, regardless of whether they’re against the Las Vegas Knights or the Winnipeg Jets, it will definitely be a series to watch.