Capitals' playoff run in 1990 deserves a second look

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Capitals’ playoff run in 1990 should have a review

“Overlooked” reviews a few of the underappreciated highlights of Washington sports history. Today’s entry: The 1989-1990 Capitals, the franchise’s first string to make the conference finals

The Washington Capitals had a painful intro to the NHL. They didn’t get approved for their very first postseason till their ninth year in the NHL. Even after they ended up being a routine playoff group– and stop us if this sounds familiar– they invested years not able to surpass the 2nd round.

That altered in1990 All it took was switching one bro for another at head coach and a fourth-liner’s unlikely outburst of playoff objectives, to name a few things.

Although they completed under.500, at 36-38 -6, the Capitals squeaked into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. After years of taking very first or 2nd location in the Patrick Department however falling brief in April, it was time to turn the script.

“We were like underdogs, really,” Rod Langway stated. “We weren’t favorites like years past. So maybe it made some players feel a lot easier with a ‘we have nothing to lose’ type attitude.”

O bro, where art thou

Alan May had actually played a handful of NHL video games for Boston and Edmonton prior to the Capitals got him in a trade. However 1989-1990 was his main novice year, and he remained in the mix from the start as an enforcer for the 3rd and 4th lines. He still can keep in mind the enjoyment of beginning on opening night, a win over the Philadelphia Flyers.

However a string of injuries threatened to thwart the season early on. It got so bad that coach Bryan Murray required to utilize May, a winger, out of position due to the fact that the majority of the group’s routine blueliners were injured.

“I remember playing against Vancouver one night and they had me back on defense,” Might, now a Capitals expert for NBC Sports Washington, stated with a laugh. “We just had so many guys that normally wouldn’t kill a penalty were killing penalties, and they were just trying to rotate (us).”

The Capitals were bogged down in an eight-game losing streak in January 1990 when basic supervisor David Poile chose to shoot and fire Murray. Langway, May and Scott Stevens all feel to this day that Murray should not have actually been fired, indicating the stack of injuries out of the coach’s control. Stevens stated the gamers were captured a bit off-guard by the relocation.

However the most noteworthy part of the choice was who was tapped to change Murray: his own bro, Terry.


At the time, Terry Murray was the coach of Washington’s AHL affiliate, the Baltimore Skipjacks. According to report from 1990, Poile stated there was a long time out on the other end of the telephone line when he provided the more youthful Murray the gig.

“I think Terry just came in and he knew he was in a tough position,” Langway stated. “It’s unusual that a brother comes in and takes your job.”

In Terry Murray’s very first video game behind the bench, Washington snapped its losing streak in incredible style, beating the New Jersey Devils 9-6.

As May informs it, Terry Murray challenged a few of the beliefs in the locker space and did more to describe the lingo, the “why” behind what gamers were informed to do on the ice. With his even-keeled psychological design and crisp interaction, gamers rapidly purchased in.

In group conferences, May was typically struck by just how much Murray looked and seemed like his fired bro.

“Almost everything was identical except what came out of the coach’s mouth,” May stated.

Druce gets loose

Prior to the playoffs started, May stated, Murray comprised placards for every single gamer on the lineup highlighting their functions and what they suggested to the group. It assisted people to purchase in and coalesce as a group.

“There’s no question we were tired of not advancing and not going farther in the playoffs,” Stevens stated.

However some gamers outshined their functions and expectations– particularly, John Druce.

Called a fourth-line protective professional, Druce wasn’t a routine starter when the season started. He handled 8 objectives and 3 helps in 45 regular-season looks. However he took off in the playoffs, leading Washington with 17 points (14 objectives and 3 helps) in 15 video games.

For context, when Alex Ovechkin led the Capitals to the 2018 Stanley Cup, he scored 15 objectives– in 24 video games.

“John Druce got hot, and everything that touched his stick went in the net, it seemed like,” Langway stated.

Druce ended up being a folk hero for Washington, and a repeating headache for New york city Rangers fans. After the Capitals managed the Devils in 6 video games in the preliminary, Druce gathered 9 objectives in a five-game series versus the Mark Messier-led Rangers– consisting of the overtime winner in Video game 5 at Madison Square Garden, no less, to clinch the series for the Capitals.

The series started with a 7-3 beatdown by heavily-favored New york city. “We should’ve lost about 20-3,” May stated.


However Druce ignited and the Capitals took control. Remembering the event in the locker space later, Langway stated it was among the much better sensations in his Capitals profession.

“Originally I was very proud of what happened there, but I played 14 years of professional hockey, so I thought, ‘Jeez, I did more than that,’” Druce informed the Washington Post in 2009, concerning his tradition. “I’ve come to realize that’s kind of my calling card. I’m very proud of it, and this time of year (the postseason) comes around and it’s nice.”

What might have been

In hindsight, this Capitals group was stacked with skill. Defensemen Stevens and Langway and winger Dino Ciccarelli, who scored 41 objectives that season, are now in the Hall of Popularity. There were fan favorites like May, center Dale Hunter and defenseman Calle Johansson. Kevin Hatcher was entering into his own as a well-rounded defenseman, somebody Langway and May applauded up and down 30 years later on.

However throughout the Rangers series, both Ciccarelli and Hatcher suffered knee injuries– “Both were cheap shots,” May stated– that took them out for the playoffs.

Stevens, now an NHL Network expert, was playing through a shoulder injury. Understanding hockey culture, he was barely alone. So the Boston Bruins had little problem sweeping the Capitals in the Prince of Wales Conference Finals.

The core of that lineup would not get another shot together. Geoff Courtnall, the Capitals’ second-leading point-getter in 1989-90, asked for a trade. However the most significant loss was Stevens.

As a limited totally free representative, Stevens signed a four-year, $5.145 million agreement with the St. Louis Blues– an enormous offer for the NHL at that time. The Capitals had the choice to match it however decreased, choosing the haul of first-round draft choices they ‘d get as settlement.

Stevens had actually hoped the Capitals would match the deal.

“Washington gave me the opportunity to play in the National Hockey League. So I guess I was hoping to stay in Washington, a place where we’ve had success,” Stevens stated. “We turned the corner and made the playoffs every year, we were going in the right direction, so it would have been fun to stay. But things happen, and I signed with St. Louis and that was the end for the Washington Capitals and me.”

“That was a huge loss and there was a bitterness that we lost (Stevens),” May stated. “He was such an important guy. This franchise took years to win a Stanley Cup. It probably would have been a lot sooner had he never left.”

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