The Caps and the NHL recently released a DVD collection of the Capitals 10 greatest games. Due to a lack of sufficent video archives, the list is heavily weighted towards more recent games. As a result of this, On Frozen Blog’s John Keeley and I, just this week, have compiled a list of what we consider to be the 10 greatest games in Caps history, based primarily on a combination of importance and excitement. Officially, here is the criteria that John and I came up with for our list:
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. Ed and I have 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. Mike Vogel, of WashingtonCaps.com, correctly pointed out to us that there are some wildly entertaining Caps’ game 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?”
As someone who has followed or been around this team since its inception in 1974-75, first as a fan tagging along with my father to game after game that he covered while working for WLMD and then the Prince George’s Post-Sentinel (1974-84), then as a reporter myself for the Post-Sentinel (1984-87), followed by over 10 super years as a team statistician (1987-97), which was succeeded by a period where I was strictly a fan (1997-2007), and concluding with the last few years where I have been blogging about this still Stanley Cup-less franchise here at WNST.NET (2007-present), I have seen so many great contests and have personally experienced the ups and downs that the organization has been through, especially during that 10 year period when I was a Capitals game night employee.
This quick project was incredibly fun and some of the game choices were extremely tough. The highlight of the whole ordeal was chatting with former Caps Coach Bryan Murray before Tuesday night’s Caps-Sens game and then afterwards again with the Ottawa GM about his recollection of some of those great contests, five of which included him as Washington’s head coach. The video of that entire interview with Murray by John and I, will be is now posted at On Frozen Blog here on Thursday afternoon. [Note: Special thanks to OFB’s Andrew Tomlinson for producing that interview.]
I really like the list that John and I came up with and I will go through each game, starting with the 10th best and work my way down to our 1st choice, with some history, thoughts, info, etc. about each contest. At the end of the list I’ll also chronicle some of the ones that just missed out and are what I will call “Honorable Mentions.”
10. Caps 9, Edmonton 2 (2/5/1984) – This dominating win came only a couple of years after the “Save the Caps” campaign that managed to keep hockey alive in this area. If Wayne Gretzky does not miss this game with a shoulder injury I would rank this one higher on the list. This contest was the 5th on Washington’s then club record 10 game winning streak and the 9th in what would eventually be a 14 game unbeaten streak (they tied the Sabres in game four of that run). The Caps were an up and coming club following their first ever playoff appearance the previous spring. However, Washington began the season 0-7 and during that bad start GM David Poile traded defenseman Brian Engblom for now Hall of Famer, Larry Murphy. Early in that season Edmonton smoked the Caps 11-3 in Alberta and also had already come to Capital Centre and won, 7-4. So the Caps came into this one seeking to make a statement against Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey, Glenn Anderson, Grant Fuhr and company. Alot of Caps had big games and my memory of that day was sitting two rows up behind the goal Washington defended in periods one and three. By the way, that year the Oilers would go on to defeat the New York Islanders in the Stanley Cup Finals for their first of four Stanley Cups in five seasons.
9. Caps 5, Montreal 4 in OT (1/31/2008) – This was the night that Alexander Ovechkin had me really believing that he was going to almost single handily carry the Capitals into the post season for the first time since the rebuilding began in 2004. The Great #8 took a high stick to the head from Alexei Kovalev early on then had his nose broken on a hit by Francis Bouillon. But that lit a fire under the best player on the planet and Ovie would go on to make some huge hits and score four remarkable goals (plus he added an assist), including the winner in overtime, after Washington blew a 4-2 lead in the last seven minutes of regulation. For me this was the night that “Don’t Stop Believin'” started becoming the team’s theme song that season. In my blog following that game, I mentioned that the building was only 80% full but if the Great #8 kept playing like that it would be sold out on a regular basis. Right now I think the Caps have sold out something like their last 52 home games (including playoffs)??!!
8. Caps 3, Islanders 1 (4/12/1986) – The first three seasons in which the Capitals made the playoffs they were defeated by the New York Islanders (1983, 1984, and 1985). The 1985 series loss was a heartbreaker as Washington raced to 2-0 series lead in what was a best of five back then. Unfortunately the Isles won the next three thanks to some great Billy Smith goaltending. But in 1986 the Caps were loaded tallying a then club record 107 points (50-23-7). The team lost Bengt Gustafsson on a cheap shot hit from the Isles Denis Potvin in a game in March but the club still had Stanley Cup aspirations with #16 out of the lineup. This win on Long Island was so important because they finally beat Al Arbour’s crew. When John and I were discussing this contest we both remember local DC Channel 20 going into the Caps locker room following the series victory and staying on for what seemed like 45 minutes going from player to player interviewing them during the celebration.
7. Caps 7, Flyers 1 (1/8/1984) – Any time the Capitals went into the Spectrum to face Philadelphia, back in those days, it typically resulted in a defeat, many of which were of the 6-2 variety. The Flyers were always tough and gritty and with a crowd that sat right on top of you it was an intimidating place to play. But Gustafsson, who was sneaky tough and pound for pound among some of the top hitters I’ve ever seen, scored five goals in a Washington rout.
6. Caps 3, Blue Jackets 2 (10/5/2005) – This wasn’t the most entertaining contest to watch but it was Ovechkin’s first NHL game and he put on a show scoring twice. For Caps fans, who were looking for hope following the lockout and after GM George McPhee tore the team down in 2004, this was exactly what the doctor ordered. It was the Great #8’s coming out party and he delivered in a season that would see him win the Calder Trophy for NHL Rookie of the Year.
5. Caps 2, Rangers 1 (4/27/1990) – Who can forget “Druce on the Loose?” John Druce tallied in overtime in game five at Madison Square Garden to put Washington in its first ever Eastern Conference finals. Working for the team during this season, which saw coach Bryan Murray fired by Poile and replaced by his brother, Terry, in January, this was a monumental playoff step forward after a very disappointing 1989. The series clinching win in New York came after Rod Langway was the game four hero in Landover. #5 pinched down on the left wing boards to gather the puck and then beat John Vanbiesbrouck top shelf on an improbable play by a defensive defenseman.
4. Caps 5, Flyers 1 (4/7/1984) – This was a huge playoff win as well as a very entertaining contest. The Caps went into the Spectrum up two games to none and were seeking their first ever playoff series victory. Philadelphia, who was coached by Bob McCammon, was a tough team that had two young twin brothers, Rich and Ron Sutter, that liked to mix it up. The Flyers bench boss tried to initimidate the Caps in this fight filled game and not only did Carpenter and Mike Gartner hurt Philly on the scoreboard, they also each beat up a different Sutter brother! By the way, Caps broadcaster Craig Laughlin had the game winning tallies in the second and third contests of this series.
3. Caps 4, Penguins 3 (5/4/2009) – If this game resulted in a series victory it is easily number one on the list but the night that Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby both had hat tricks only gave Washington a 2-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference semi-finals. The Great #8 put on an absolute show. Crosby notched his hat trick late after Chris Kunitz tried to de-capitate Washington goalie Semyon Varlamov. To read more about that game, here is my blog from that one.
2. Caps 3, Sabres 2, OT (6/4/98) – Some will argue that this game should be number one because it put Washington in their only Stanley Cup appearance. Joe Juneau scored in overtime to send Washington on to a match up with the Detroit Red Wings. I remember watching this one at Mike Herr’s house. Mike was the Caps long time team Opthamologist and also the Caps stats director during my tenure with the organization. Following the previous season, when the Caps missed the playoffs primarily due to injuries, Poile, head coach Jim Schoenfeld, and the assistant coaches were all fired by owner Abe Pollin in a marketing move, led by Susan O’Malley, and replaced by GM George McPhee and Coach Ron Wilson. It was also after that 1997 season that the stats jobs that Mike, Scott Scheuler, Mike Arendes, John Beamer, and I all performed were determined by the NHL to be no longer run by the hockey departments themselves and would be moved under the NHL off-ice officials. The classy Poile made arrangements for all of us to transition into that capacity but I decided it was not something I wanted to do going forward. So while I was quite excited that the Caps, who were totally carried by Olie Kolzig in those playoffs, were going to the finals, the fact that some of the people who built the majority of that team were not around anymore to celebrate with (including the late Jack Button, the Caps Director of Player Personnel who passed away in 1996 due to cancer) made it slightly bittersweet for me personally.
1. Caps 5 Flyers 4, OT (4/16/1988) – Even though this was only a round one victory it was so significant for the Capitals. The previous season they had blown a 3-1 series lead to the Islanders and lost in that 4 overtime classic. After getting 107 points in 1985-86, Washington followed that season up with only 86 and 85 points and the momentum that was built up for five years after the successful “Save the Caps” effort was starting to wane. To make matters worse the Flyers jumped out to a 3-1 series lead but then Washington caught fire burying Philly in games five and six to set up a game seven showdown. In those days the Capital Centre was so dark that the organization asked all fans to wear white to help light the place up. After falling behind 3-0 the building was dead but Washington staged a furious rally before Dale Hunter took a super Murphy pass and went in alone on Ron Hextall to score the game winner via the five hole in overtime. It was magic and Caps hockey was back big time on the radar in this area. The after party at Langways was legendary as fans and players packed #5’s restaurant over on route 450.
As I mentioned above, this was a tough process picking the greatest 10 games and one could argue that John and I left out some good ones. You couldn’t go very wrong arguing for the Caps game 7 victory over the Rangers last April, the Caps win in game 6 in 1994 to gain their only playoff series victory over Pittsburgh, the 5-4 game 1 playoff victory over the Flyers in 2008 where Ovechkin scored that legendary pick-pocket goal, the first ever Caps playoff game win in 1983 against the Isles (Bob Gould had the game winner), or this year’s 5-4 overtime win over Pittsburgh on NBC where Ovechkin notched another hat trick. Going on pure entertainment value, I suggest that you and the boys grab some brews and get a copy of the 1991 Caps-Flyers brawl game where Hunter elbowed Gord Murphy enciting several donnybrooks. That was during the short, but very crazy John Kordic era and I vividly remember going into the locker room to deliver the post game stats to the coaches and written up on the white board in the players dressing room were the words: “We are Heavy Metal.”
The great thing about these lists is every one has an opinion and noone is really wrong. So feel free to let me know what games mean the most to you in the comments section. Also, please don’t forget to check out On Frozen Blog’s post on this process as well as the video from the Murray interview.
Oh and one final thought, it sure would be nice to be revising this list come mid-June with at least a new number one game. I think you know what I mean.