The last time the Caps won 10 straight
There's no need to get overly dramatic about what a hockey team is doing in February, but when you combine the victory-starved D.C. market with the relentless brilliance of these Capitals, you can't help but get hyperbolic. It's been almost two decades since the Redskins, Wizards, Nats or Caps have showed the sort of sustained regular-season dominance we've seen from the Caps since the New Year.
The 1991 Bandwagon Redskins finished that season 14-2, three games ahead of the Cowboys in the NFC East, and two games ahead of the Lions in the NFC. The Skins lost their regular season finale while the Cowboys and Lions both won theirs, so going into the final week of the season those Redskins had a four-game divisional lead and were three games better than anyone in their conference.
These Caps, meantime, now have a 22-point lead in the admittedly bad Southeast Division. If they stopped playing, they still couldn't be caught before March 9. They have 46 goals more than second-place Atlanta in the same number of games; the Thrashers scored 41 goals in the entire month of January.
The 10-straight win streak is the team's longest since January/February of 1984, when the Caps put together a stretch of 16-1-1. There was also a 13-0-1 in there, which remains the longest unbeaten streak in franchise history.
(And yes, if you want to quibble with their current 10-game win streak, you could note that the first win came in a shootout, so it's sort of hard to compare with a 10-game win streak from the mid-'80s. But that's some intense quibbling.)
Some highlights from the win streak; see also, pop culture landmarks of the time, via RMNB:
* The Caps were in fourth place in the Patrick Division when their win streak began. The streak started with a home-and-home sweep of the Maple Leafs, who were in the midst of a particularly Toronto sort of turmoil. The Leafs had recently barred Globe and Mail reporters from the press box and dressing room, forcing the paper's reporters to buy tickets to the game. Toronto's coach also conducted post-game interviews inside his office so Globe and Mail reporters couldn't hear.
* The game-story for the first game of the streak was written by John Feinstein. He noted that the Caps out-shot the Leafs 32-13 over the final two periods.
* The second game was an 8-0 win over Toronto, at that point the largest shutout win in franchise history. Craig Laughlin scored twice.
* The third game was a 2-0 shutout of the Devils, which gave goalie Pat Riggin more than 174 consecutive shutout minutes, then a team record. His streak would end at more than 203 minutes, which (I believe) remains a franchise record.
* After the fourth game, Tom Boswell wrote an epic column about Riggin and the Caps. So many choice moments. For example:
Capitals followers--a breed that makes early New York Met fans seem like cynics--watched the sky for years, waiting for a sign. Surely, one day a great portent would arrive, proving the hockey gods had undergone a change of heart.
This was 26 years ago. Or there was Boz describing Riggin as "a hybrid cross of several woodland animals," wearing a "sweaty, filthy Molson cap and his old Lucas Body Shop T-shirt." Or him quoting Riggin like this:
"I have no use for front-runners. I don't like 'em at the race track and I don't like 'em in hockey....These people here are good to me. Caps fans aren't front-runners. Hey, no bandwagon ever went by for 'em to jump on."
But it'd be hard to top this paragraph:
Capital Centre is starting to sound like the old Madison Square Garden on Ranger nights and Riggin--the Rigger to his mates--is the man hearing the ovations. In a town that already has Reaganomics and the Riggo Drill, the Capitals have come up with a new disease that afflicts opposition scorers--Rigger Mortis.
* The fifth game was a 9-2 rout of the Gretzky-less Oilers in front of a sellout crowd that ended the night with a standing ovation. The Caps scored three goals in one 40-second stretch of the third period. Here's from Ken Denlinger's column:
One recoils at the association of awesome and the Capitals, the aw-expressions for years having been aw shucks and awful. Or worse. But what the former sad sacks of sport did to the guys with the best record in the NHL was more than aw-riight. So what if the man who walks on water and skates on ice, hockey's answer to Aaron, Chamberlain and Nicklaus, was elsewhere nursing a shoulder boo-boo.
The sellout crowd included VP Bush and Barbara, Michael Deaver, Sandra Day O'Connor, Paul Volcker, Rowland Evans and lots more famous conservatives.
* This was also staff editorial time, if you can believe that. Here come the waterworks:
NO SOONER did local sports-fandom bid its last hail and farewell to those burgundy-and- gold football heroes than along comes fresh--and long-awaited--good news from Greater Washington's new, improved and downright dazzling Capitals hockey team. Talk about respect, as sports announcers do ad nauseam: there was a time, a long, painful time, when playing against the Caps was the sports equivalent of having a day off. But surely all the enemies know better today--these skaters are the hottest team in the National Hockey League.
* With their sixth straight win, the Caps moved into third place in the Patrick. Six straight was then a franchise record. Time for a Hockeytown column from Boz.
Washington is a basketball mecca. Washington is the hockey pits. Washingtonians know more about hoops than politics, less about hockey than home rule.
These precepts have held true my whole Washington lifetime. But they're in danger now. Through the 1950s, '60s and '70s, basketball was so hip around here that you just referred to it as "ball." Talking hockey got you the fisheye; you might as well drop the name of your favorite pro wrestler for all the status it bestowed....
Washington is falling hard for hockey; all those Capitals' rogues need do is keep winning a while longer and they may plug into the violence-and-victory wattage that animates Redskins' mania. Meanwhile, the Bullets' attendance falls for the fifth straight season. The NBA team that once drew almost 13,000 a night when it was world champion can't drag 7,600 people into the joint now.
These days, a Capitals game is a chanting, screaming circus--a celebration by both fans and team of a release from years of humiliation.
* The Flyers became the Caps' seventh straight victim, in front of another Cap Centre sellout. This was the 16th straight game in which the Caps outshot their opponents. It also led to three brilliant final sentences from beat writer Robert Fachet:
As for the Flyers, they left with their usual lack of class. With 63 seconds left, Ron Sutter charged [Alan] Haworth from behind and whacked him with a high stick. Sutter drew two minor penalties while the fans saluted the visitors with a loud chant degrading the Flyers.
* Next up was a seven-game West coast swing. Remember those? An opening win in Minnesota gave Riggin his third straight road shutout and more than 212 consecutive shutout minutes on the road, and his team an eighth straight win. "That's the best 60 minutes of hockey I've seen any team play this year," Minnesota Coach Bill Mahoney said after the game. And in a turn of phrase that might not make it into the paper today, Fachet wrote that "Riggin lost his Irish temper in the third period."
* The ninth game, in L.A. against the Kings, moved the Caps into a tie for second place, two points out of first.
* "And the last shall be first," Fachet wrote after the Caps beat the Blues for 10 in a row. "The Washington Capitals continued their incredible comeback from that 0-7 October start tonight by defeating the St. Louis Blues, 4-2, and earning a share of first place in the Patrick Division."
"This has got to be a big thing for Mr. Pollin and all the fans who stuck with the team through the losing years," Riggin said after the win. "I hope they're enjoying it, because I know we are."
And what happened next? The streak ended in overtime in Winnipeg, when Larry Murphy and Riggin had a miscommunication over who was playing a puck, neither did, and the Jets got a tap-in game winner. Fachet called it one of the five worst goals in team history, and he wasn't joking.
The Caps would lose three straight, but they bounced back and finished the season strong, with six-game and four-game win streaks before things ended. They finished second in the Patrick, and swept the Flyers for their first playoff series victory. The town was going bonkers for hockey. They would lose to the Islanders in the divisional finals, but throughout the wave of gushing coverage there was a sense that this was the start of something special. One more staff editorial to end this thing.
"Caps jokes are out," The Post decreed. "These young fellows--youngest in the National Hockey League--have now brought serious hockey to town, the kind of skating and skills that can be enjoyed even by those who think a blue line has to do with how the players get to their games. The team is, as the lingo has it, building--which is another way of saying wait till next season."
"That's why reality didn't set in totally until the announcer wound up Wednesday's night broadcast with, 'See you in October.' Not so fast: first, give the Caps a break--they gave their home town a good one."
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