The All-Time Capitals Team Tournament, Part III

Photo by Craig Melvin/Stringer

Which Washington Capitals team was the best the organization has ever put on the ice? Four more contenders battle it out in Round 1 of our tournament to answer that very question.

Half of our bracket is filled now (catch up here and here), but that means half the slots remain open - here are the next four...

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S
Season GP ROW ROL T/SO Adj Pts Pts%
GF GF Rk
GA
GA Rk
3 1983-84 80 48 27
5
101 .631
308 12/21
226
1/21
14 1997-98 82
40
30
12 92 .561
219 13/26
202 10/26

Just one year removed from the first playoff appearance in franchise history (more on that squad below), the 1983-84 Caps entered the post-season as a 101-point team with home-ice advantage in the first round. How'd they do it? De-fense. Rod Langway won the Norris (back when a defensive-minded defenseman could do such a thing), Doug Jarvis won the Selke Trophy, Al Jensen and Pat Riggin won the Jennings Trophy as the Caps allowed the fewest goals in hockey (thanks in part to a League-best 86.7% effective penalty kill) and Bryan Murray won the Adams Trophy. Scott Stevens and Dave Shand provided solid defense as well, with the former adding 45 points, just one behind Larry Murphy for the team lead among rearguards. Up front, Mike Gartner, Dave Christian and Bengt Gustafsson all averaged better than a point-per game (of course, Wayne Gretzky averaged nearly 2.8 that season).

The Caps made short work of Philly that spring, sweeping the best-of-five, but then faced the four-time defending champion Islanders, who ran off four straight wins after spotting the Caps Game 1. Despite the loss, this was very much a team on the rise... but ultimately, this would just be the first of many Caps teams to follow up strong regular seasons with disappointing playoff performances before ending a 14-year run of postseason appearances in 1997.

And then came 1997-98.

The season itself was largely unremarkable with three notable exceptions: Peter Bondra leading the League in goals (tied at 52 with Teemu Selanne), Olie Kolzig firmly establishing himself as the number one goaltender (33-18-10/2.20/.920) after Bill Ranford went down with an injury early on and the trio of Adam Oates, Dale Hunter and Phil Housley all reaching the 1,000-point plateau, the only time in League history as many teammates hit have that milestone in the same season. Other than that, it was typical Caps - hard-working, solid defense (including a #1-ranked, 89.2% effective penalty kill) and never enough offense (other than Bondra, the team had two forwards in the teens in goals scored and no one else up front with as many as a dozen). In fact, the team's +0.2 per-game goal differential was the worst of any team in our little tournament.

Still, they managed 92 points during the regular season - fourth in the Conference - which meant they'd host Boston (91 points) in Round 1. The Bruins were able to split the first two games after a double-overtime win in Game 2, but the Caps snagged both games in Boston before getting smoked at home in Game 5 only to see Brian Bellows pot a series-clinching goal from waaaaay downtown 15 minutes into overtime in Game 6.

As mentioned above, the other series in the East broke the Caps' way, and they'd face Ottawa in the second round in a high-stakes battle of nation's capitals. But the Sens were no match for Kolzig, who allowed just seven goals (four in Game 3) in the five-game series, including posting back-to-back shutouts to close out the round. Next up was Buffalo, and a trio of overtime wins - culminating with Juneau's greatest-moment-in-team-history - sent the Caps to their first (and, to date, only) Finals appearance.

What came next leaves Caps fans to this day wondering about what might have been - but that shouldn't take away from what was, and that is simply the greatest playoff run in Washington Capitals history.

So which team would win a best-of-seven, 1983-84 or 1997-98? Could Kolzig et. al. pull off an upset win for Wilson, or would Murray’s superb defensive squad shut ‘em over? If low-scoring playoff hockey is your thing, this might be the first round match-up for you...


S
Season GP ROW ROL T/SO Adj Pts Pts%
GF GF Rk
GA
GA Rk
6 1991-92 80 45 27
8
98 .613
330 2/22
275
4/22
11 1982-83 80
39
25
16
94
.588
306 12/21
283 5/21

If there’s a dark horse in this tournament, it might be the 1991-92 squad (Friend of the Blog Ed Frankovic had these guys as the best of the lot a few years back). Terry Murray’s team finished second in the League in goals-for (with 330 – the most in franchise history), tenth in goals-against and top-four in both special teams categories. In fact, the only team in the League with more wins and points than Washington (45, 98) that season was the team that kept the Caps out of the top spot in the Patrick Division, the 50-win Rangers (against whom the Caps were 5-2 during the regular season).

Fourteen Caps (including four defensemen) had double-digit goals, with seven topping 20 and a pair – Dino Ciccarelli and Khristich – besting 35. 11 skaters also had 50 or more points, with Pivonka leading the way with 80 and Dale Hunter close behind with 78. The Caps were good and deep.

The first round of the playoffs set up nicely for the Caps to get some revenge on the team that had sent them home from the dance the previous spring, namely the Pittsburgh Penguins, who had finished 11 points behind the Caps and lost five of the seven meetings between the teams in the regular season. Washington raced out to a 3-1 series lead (which included 7-2 and 6-2 drubbings)... before losing three straight (including Game 7 on home ice) and hitting the links. It would be the first of three Game 7 losses to the Penguins, and the second of six series lost to Pittsburgh in an 11-year span; four of those featured blown two-game leads for Washington.

They'll face the very first Caps playoff team, the 1982-83 squad, a team which we profiled more extensively here.

Bryan Murray's team was anchored by newly acquired Langway (in his first of back-to-back Norris seasons) and an 18-year-old rookie Stevens on the back-end, Dennis Maruk, Gartner and Bob Carpenter up front and Jensen and Riggin in net. They made a gigantic 29-point leap in the standings over the previous year before running head-first into the three-time defending Cup champ Islanders in the first round. They managed to win the first playoff game in franchise history on April 7, 1983 (Bobby Gould with the game-winner) before giving way on the Isles' march to four in-a-row.

As noted above, that Caps team was the first of 14 straight to make the playoffs, and they'd helped both save and establish the sport for fans in and around the nation's capital. Things were very much looking up for hockey D.C.

So which team would win a best-of-seven, 1991-92 or 1982-83? Would perhaps the deepest team in franchise history oust the organization's first post-season entry? In a matchup between the Murrays, which brother gets the bragging rights?

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Twelve down, four to go - here's a look at the bracket:

Capitals_tourney_part_iii_large

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