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For many Capitals players, the Stanley Cup Playoffs is familiar territory. But for a handful of new and young players about to get their first ever taste of the NHL postseason, the moment they’ve waited for their whole lives is here.
On Thursday, April 11, the Caps will take on the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 1 of the first round of the playoffs, beginning their attempt to join the 2015-17 Pittsburgh Penguins—whose run they ended in the 2018 playoffs—as the only team in the last 20 years to repeat as back-to-back NHL champions.
Defenseman Nick Jensen arrived in Washington at the trade deadline in a swap with Detroit for Madison Bowey. Debuting for the Red Wings in 2016, Jensen just missed the glory days of Detroit’s record streak of 25 consecutive playoff appearances. Now with the Capitals and here to help them try to repeat, the 28-year-old from Minnesota is ready for his first shot at the mountaintop.
“I’ve never experienced it, but watching some of the videos of these guys after they won the Cup, that feeling—they know that, they get that, they know how good it feels. I want to experience that,” he tells City Paper. Yet Jensen isn’t worried about his teammates being satisfied or resting on their shiny silver laurels. “Wouldn’t you want to win another one? I don’t think any of them would say, ‘I already got one, I’m good, I don’t really need another one.’ They’re just as hungry as I am.”
And that hunger only grows the longer players have waited for their chance.
Fourth-line center Nic Dowd, who the Capitals signed from Vancouver just days after winning the Cup this past summer, had never so much as whiffed the NHL postseason before now.
“To be honest, the teams I’ve been with [before] haven’t really come close, so it wasn’t something we even thought about too much,” Dowd says. “I’m sure it will be an eye-opener. I’m excited to get into it.”
These defending champion Capitals are a far cry from the cellar-dwelling Canucks and Kings teams Dowd played for. With eight goals in 64 games this season—nearly doubling his career total—Dowd’s name would certainly be one of the first engraved in silver should Washington repeat.
“I’ve thought about it. It’s hard not to dream a little bit. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself,” he says.
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One player more interested in looking ahead than in the past is Travis Boyd. Playing in his first full NHL season after spending four years in the AHL with the Hershey Bears, Boyd made just nine appearances for the Capitals last year, including one playoff game. And while he feels he contributed to the team’s success—he has a championship ring to show for it—there is still one honor that has eluded him.
“I really want to get my name on [the Cup]. I’d have traded in my ring and everything that comes with it if I could have got my name on it,” he says. The 25-year-old forward still proudly considers himself a Stanley Cup champion, but admits that a repeat would give him the chance to fulfill every hockey player’s childhood dream, and one that has so far escaped him. “Having the chance to plan my own [day with the Cup]? Like, God, I want that so bad. Just gives me motivation to go out there and win another one.”
If there is any human alive who understands how special getting a day with the Stanley Cup is to hockey players, it’s Mike Bolt. Bolt has been the Keeper of the Cup for 20 years, and it is his duty to guard and escort the Stanley Cup for the Hockey Hall of Fame wherever it travels. From public events to a champion’s own private day with it, anywhere the Cup goes, Bolt is there. He’s been present for every champagne bath, every rowdy party, and, yes, every “Cup Stand.”
With two decades of experience, Bolt says he can tell when it’s a player’s first win just by the size of the celebration.
“You definitely notice the difference. Their parties are busier. They’re doing more events with it, popping around their town more. And much bigger parties,” Bolt tells City Paper. “If you’re fortunate enough to win it a second time, yeah, it does get dialed down a little bit. It’s not as crazy.”
Bolt points to Capitals defenseman and alternate captain Brooks Orpik, who waited nearly a decade between his first and second Stanley Cup win, as an example. “It was a smaller group of friends, really more about him and his family,” Bolt says. “That’s how he wanted to enjoy it the second time around.”
But while the feeling of winning the Cup may become familiar for a few lucky NHL legends, it never gets old.
“Even when they win a third time, it’s not that it’s any less special. Marty Brodeur comes to mind. We just stayed at his cottage for a day and a half; we never left the place. He told me, ‘My first one, we were taking it to everybody. This one, they can come to me,’” Bolt recalls. “If the Caps are fortunate enough [to win it again], I’m sure we’re going to have a lot more chill parties.”
Not if Dowd, Boyd, and Jensen have anything to say about it.
“Just talking about winning it, you’re getting ahead of yourself,” Jensen warns. He then adds with a smile, “But yeah, I have a good idea of how I’d want to celebrate. It would be fun.”