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Washington Capitals Know It’s Hard, Vegas Golden Knights Make It Look Easy

Consider Capitals fans. Presented with an N.H.L. expansion franchise in 1974, they looked forward to building a successful team and perhaps someday winning a championship. It hasn’t worked out that way.

Oh, the Washington Capitals have had some good teams over the years. There have been 11 division titles and 10 100-point seasons. In recent years, they have been even better: Three times in the last decade the team has had the best record in hockey, and Alex Ovechkin has won three Most Valuable Player Awards in that time.

But somehow it always goes sour in the playoffs. The Capitals have made just one Stanley Cup final in their 44 years of existence. (They were swept by the Red Wings in 1998.) Worse, they have made a conference final only one other time. (They were swept by the Bruins in 1990.)

That leaves a lot of early exits for a lot of good teams: 14 in the first round and 11 in the second.

How Capitals fans must look on with envy at the nascent hockey fans of Las Vegas. Quite simply, the Vegas Golden Knights are the most successful expansion team ever, in any major North American sport.

A website crunched the numbers and found Vegas’s season far outshone such expansion successes as the 1961 Los Angeles Angels, the 1967 Chicago Bulls, the 1995 Carolina Panthers and the 1994 Florida Panthers.

And there has been no playoff swoon. On Tuesday, the Golden Knights completed a four-game sweep of the Los Angeles Kings, winning every game by a single goal and holding the Kings to three goals in the entire series.

“When you think back to early October when the season started, we were thinking about competing and playing hard and seeing what we could do,” Coach Gerard Gallant told The Las Vegas Review-Journal. “Now all of a sudden, we’re moving on to the second round of the playoffs.”

Earlier Tuesday night, the Capitals were also involved in a playoff game, against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The omens for this series finally seemed good for the Capitals: The Blue Jackets have not won a playoff series in their 18-year history.

The Capitals had lost Games 1 and 2 of the series at home in overtime. Game 3 in Columbus on Tuesday went into overtime as well, then a second overtime. That unsettling feeling must have returned for many Caps fans.

But lo and behold, it was Washington that scored the game winner, by Lars Eller after 89 minutes of hockey. Braden Holtby, returned from a benching, made 33 saves.

“We got a break; it’s what we needed,” Capitals forward John Connolly told The Associated Press.

The Caps are still down in the series, two games to one. But perhaps Tuesday’s game may be the start of a new day for the team: an end to the jinx and the first step toward a banner hoisted to the rafters of the Capital One Arena. The Capitals fan — is there any other kind? — is probably expecting another false dawn.

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