The Washington Capitals were conceived in the summer of 1972 when contractor and NBA franchise owner Abe Pollin won out over eleven applicants for an NHL expansion franchise. The new team was set to play in the planned Capital Center in Landover, Maryland. The Caps would join the league in the 1974-75 season with hall of fame player Milt Schmidt as their first general manager and Jimmy Anderson behind the bench as the team's first coach. Their first game was the home opener against the New York Rangers, a game the Capitals lost 6-3. This first year would be a tough one for the team, which would break and set numerous NHL records for futility. They lost 67 games in that inaugural season and finished with a measely 21 points. They only managed 19 victories in their first two seasons, leading to the replacement of both general manager and coach. Schmidt was succeeded by Max McNab and Anderson was followed by Red Sullivan as coach of the Capitals.
The 1976-77 season saw the team more than match the victories in its first two seasons combined, their regular season record stood at 24-42-14 but the following year saw them take a step backwards. The Caps turned the corner when Danny Belise took over as coach in the 1978-79 season. The young team registered its best season up to that point, finishing with 63 points. Belise though was unable to stick around very long as after a slow start the following year and a twenty six year old Junior A coach from Peterborough, Ontario was hired. Gary Green was the youngest coach in NHL history and led the Capitals to their best season finishing with 77 points. The playoffs continued to elude Green and the Capitals even as the team was building a core of young players including Ryan Walter and Mike Gartner. With the Caps still unable to crack the playoffs, Green was fired and replaced by Bryan Murray thirteen games into the 1981-82 season. The following offseason also saw changes in the front office with David Poile replacing Max McNab as general manager. The team would acquire Rod Langway and Doug Jarvis in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens and the winning attitude of the new players would pay huge dividends. The team reached the .500 mark in 1982-83 and made its first playoffs appearence that postseason. They lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champion New York Islanders but defenseman Rod Langway won the Norris Trophy as best NHL rear guard.
The team continued to improve, finishing in second place with Langway adding another Norris Trophy. Doug Jarvis won the Lady Byng trophy for sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct and the goaltending tandem of Al Jensen and Pat Riggin took home the Jennings trophy for least number of goals allowed. Coach Bryan Murray would also get some much deserved recognition by winning the Jack Adams award as NHL coach of the year. But once again the defending Stanley Cup champions the New York Islanders would bounce the Capitals in four straight games in the playoffs. The Caps continued to improve their regular season play but were unable to make much progress in the postseason. They won a club record 50 regular season games in 1985-86 but were eliminated by the New York Rangers in six games in the playoffs. The following year saw the Capitals continue to play above .500 hockey led by Larry Murphy, but their playoff run was again snubbed in the divison semi-finals by their arch-rivals, the New York Islanders. The seventh game of the series was a true nail biter, going into quadruple overtime before Pat Lafontaine scored the winning goal against Bob Mason at 1:16am on Easter Sunday.
The next two years saw the Capitals do what they had done for much of the 1980s under Bryan Murray - have decent regular seasons and bow out early in the playoffs. In 1988 they defeated Philadelphia 4-3 in the Patrick division semifinals but ended up losing 4-3 to New Jersey in the Patrick division finals. In 1989 they never got past the first round, losing 4-2 to Philadelphia in the Patrick division semifinals. The following year saw Bryan Murray replaced as coach by his brother Terry. The change seemed to inspire the team as it made one of its deepest playoff runs that postseason. They defeated New Jersey 4-2 in the first round and breezed by the New York Rangers in five games to make it to the Wales conference finals. That though would be the end of the line for the Capitals as they were swept by the Boston Bruins in four.
The early 1990s saw a change in the Capitals personnel as the likes of Peter Bondra, Michael Pivonka, Joe Juneau, and Jim Carey would emerge. The team still proved to be a playoff enigma, losing in the first or second rounds. Owner Abe Pollin made the decisive change within the franchise in 1997 when he replaced long time general manager David Poile with George McPhee. Coaching changes would soon follow as Ron Wilson of the Anaheim Might Ducks was brought in to lead the team behind the bench. The season also saw the Capitals move from Landover into downtown Washington, DC to their brand new facility, the MCI Center. The Caps fought through a rash of injuries and finished with a 40-30-12 record good for 92 points and third in the Atlantic divison. Their playoff run commenced by defeating the Boston Bruins in six games and the upstart Ottawa Senators in a five game series. They made it to the Eastern conference for only the second time in team history and faced off against the Buffalo Sabres. With past playoff disapointments behind them, the Capitals finally put some of their critics to rest by defeating the Sabres in six games to make it to their first ever Stanley Cup final. Facing off against them were the Detroit Red Wings, who were looking to cement their legacy of the late 1990s. The Capitals were no match for the Wings, who swept them in four straight games to win the Stanley Cup. The Caps hit rock bottom the next year finishing out of the playoffs but their subsequent appearences saw them revert back to their earlier tendencies of being unable to get past the first round of the playoffs. On and off ice changes were also plentiful as the team added superstar Jaromir Jagr and brought in Bruce Cassidy as coach.
Washington Capitals Overview:
Arena: MCI Center
Stanley Cups won: 0