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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.

Unbelievable.

* 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:

Gretzky? Smetzky.

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."


Wrong uniform, but awesome.

* 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."

By Dan Steinberg  |  January 31, 2010; 10:16 PM ET
Categories:  Caps  
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Comments

FIRST!!!

Posted by: pdo3 | January 31, 2010 10:51 PM | Report abuse

OK Steinberg. You've written some good stuff in the past, but I think this has to be the tops! Any chance you can convince Boz of writing some more Caps articles and dropping lines like he did A QUARTER CENTURY AGO?

Posted by: ovyscaps | January 31, 2010 11:02 PM | Report abuse

Wow, this brings back memories. I remember attending that unbelievable Caps-Oilers game as a 13-year-old kid. I remember that the streak was, in part, during the 1984 Winter Olympics and Ron Weber saying that despite what was going on in Sarajevo, it seemed the Caps, at that time, were the best hockey team in the world.

And I'm glad there's now some evidence of what I've written on here in the past--that while they certainly weren't as popular back then as they are now, the Caps were often a hotter ticket than the Bullets through much of the 1980s in this area.

Posted by: TheFingerman | January 31, 2010 11:48 PM | Report abuse

I remember this original 10-gamer with fond memories. The Smurfs movie had just come out and He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was just hitting the scene. It was awesometime.

Posted by: false_cause | February 1, 2010 12:11 AM | Report abuse

Great piece, Dan. Us old Caps fans have been through some stuff, man. We've been through some stuff. There's a ten year-old kid in me who's kicking and screaming, 'this is the year!' and then there's a guy 25 years his senior shaking his head and thinking, 'there's too many bad ways for this to end, and our Caps will stumble into one of them.' Sigh. Please let this be the year. Please.

Posted by: DKSW | February 1, 2010 12:54 AM | Report abuse

I remember bits and pieces of that streak while away at college. I DO remember the 0-7 start, and how they finished 50-14 (with ties) or something like that, then blew away the Flyers if I remember something like 4-1, 6-2, and 5-1 (in the Spectrum). A split on the Island made it seem like '84 was going to be special.

Interestingly, the 4-1 series loss to the 'fading' Islanders was a sign of trouble ahead.

There IS something much more special about 2010. This team is bigger, stronger, perhaps even tougher if tested - and has a national following. Plus, they've never sold out a full season until this one.

This...may...just...be...the...year!

Posted by: wxdancer | February 1, 2010 12:55 AM | Report abuse

last time this happened espn covered sports other than football. and so did the post??

Posted by: formerlylove1 | February 1, 2010 4:02 AM | Report abuse

Now THAT was a hockey piece! Great job, Dan. Way to connect the die-hard lifers, the bandwagoneers, and those just discovering hockey.

Posted by: Kdarienzo | February 1, 2010 6:30 AM | Report abuse

Thanks to the Post for including the views of its highly-paid columnists on the Caps almost-historic streak in today's print edition. There are so many possible angles to take - the streak itself, the way the town and fans have responded, how nearly every player on the team has contributed in some way during the streak - but I think you guys hit the right notes.

Oh, wait . . .

Instead, we got to read about how the Nats - a team with an ownership group and team President that basically hate fans - were very happy to get to meet each other for the first time yesterday.

This is the worst sports town in the country, hands down. Any other town - even freaking Nashville - would be all over their hockey team going on a run like this.

Posted by: SouthsideFFX | February 1, 2010 7:15 AM | Report abuse

This is a "nice run"...nothing more. I can't get excited about playing well in January when the goal is to win in April. The Caps are covered well and definately more than say 10 years ago.

"I'm gonna take a spin in that E-class, and them I'm gonna get a garden salad" - Coach Bruce

O COME ON GABBY....have you ever had a salad in your life?

Posted by: caphcky | February 1, 2010 7:51 AM | Report abuse

This is good stuff, Dan.

But why do I read it with a sense of foreboding?

Posted by: JohninMpls | February 1, 2010 8:09 AM | Report abuse

Haha nice pic Locker! =)

Posted by: rachel216 | February 1, 2010 8:52 AM | Report abuse

Steinberg:

You fail to mention DC United's history and tradition of winning championships! Albeit, the last couple years have been disappointing because our rebuilding. But, DC United is the flagship team of Major League Soccer and I think it deserves some recognition. Cheers!

Posted by: redskinsux | February 1, 2010 9:06 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for this article.

Posted by: TwoBuckChuck | February 1, 2010 9:19 AM | Report abuse

Good point earlier about Nashville being "all over it". So true. I opened the web site this morning and this is BURIED?

Having lived in Tampa Bay during their brief but great glory days, I can tell you that their sports columnists routinely wrote about them as they ascended in 2003 and 2004, and sports talk radio led with it. Granted, there wasn't an NBA team there, but it wasn't an NBA town, either.

In Tampa, the rule was Bucs first, then Bucs and Bolts, then Bolts. What's up, Washington?

Posted by: wxdancer | February 1, 2010 9:55 AM | Report abuse

Nice one, Dan. I was there for some of those games on my "ten game plan" back then, and it was a great time. You did us all a service by reviewing the history and the good writing that was in the Post then.
Thanks!

Posted by: pcalver1 | February 1, 2010 10:07 AM | Report abuse

Yes, the Locker photo is awesome.. :D

Posted by: MikeL-Caps911 | February 1, 2010 10:34 AM | Report abuse

LOL in that pic, Locker looks like a cross between Stifler from "American Pie," and Jim Carrey from "Dumb and Dumber."

Great Article, Steinz.

Posted by: VTDuffman | February 1, 2010 10:38 AM | Report abuse

Two thumbs up!

Gotta agree w/ the DCU comment though.

Posted by: KireDCU | February 1, 2010 12:13 PM | Report abuse

As amazing as ten-game win streaks are, I look up and see no Cup banner. The current streak is nice. Congrats all around. The big difference between now the 80's? Then the streak was enough. Now? As Ted says, there's a singular focus: The Cup. Period.

Posted by: caps1974 | February 1, 2010 1:12 PM | Report abuse

Hi caphcky!

Posted by: FlyersSuck | February 1, 2010 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Awesome, awesome look back Dan, nicely done.

Posted by: oc_ofb | February 1, 2010 3:58 PM | Report abuse

The "admittedly bad" SE Division may wind up with three teams in the playoffs.

Posted by: JillC | February 1, 2010 4:34 PM | Report abuse

I can't imagine a worse written article... Ever. There's not even scores for each game. Pathetic.

Posted by: unhuman | February 1, 2010 4:47 PM | Report abuse

Great memories, Dan! When I was co-chair of Save the Caps back in '82, we could only dream about sellout crowds and positive media coverage. It was that 83-84 season that proved it could happen--that Washington could be a hockey town. Of course, even that pales in comparison to what's been happening in Rock-the-Red City for the last two years. Go Caps!

Posted by: StevefromSacto | February 1, 2010 6:33 PM | Report abuse

Another awesome effort, Steinz! And I concur most wholeheartedly with the comment of Kdarienzo that it brings together the longterm fans, bandwagoners, and newbies. Which is, IMHO, what ownership, the team, and the collective fanbase should want.

But I also must reiterate what others say here and elsewhere, that this is a wonderful streak, and and we're loving it--and we want more of the same. But it's not our (collective) goal, and it's not enough. Let's Go Caps!!!!

Posted by: aphid69 | February 1, 2010 7:12 PM | Report abuse

What a great back to earlier time of he caps. Thanks Dan.

Posted by: Dlewis10 | February 1, 2010 10:29 PM | Report abuse

Who cares about soccer and who cares about basketball this should be about hockey period. How anyone can watch soccer is beyond me, it ranks right up there with navel lint

Posted by: zcxnissan | February 2, 2010 4:45 AM | Report abuse

"How anyone can watch soccer is beyond me"

Indeed.

Posted by: redskinsux | February 3, 2010 2:19 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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