From Crapitals to everyone's favourite team

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:33 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- There's a reason they used to call this team the Crapitals.

Lots of reasons.

Bad teams, bad crowds, bad neighborhood for a rink, bad atmosphere.

Everything about the struggling losers was bad.

Then came Ovechkin. And Semin. And Green. And Backstrom. And head coach Bruce Boudreau.

And now the R is silent, but the fans are not.

It's hip to be a Cap, and a Caps fan, in a city where attendance is up a remarkable 30% from last season.

"It's the first time it's been like this, it's the best atmosphere ever," said Ovechkin, the cornerstone of Washington's revival.

'EVERYBODY LOVES US'

"I was here after the lockout. I know how the team changed and I know how the fans changed. I'm happy to be part of it. We started winning and people started to love hockey. Right now everybody loves us and everybody knows us."

Last season they averaged 13,837 per game, this year it's 17,960 (a new franchise record). The Caps are eighth among U.S. franchises in attendance, and have responded with a 18-2-1 home ice record.

Life is good.

"I was here for one of the lean years, one and a half, counting the start of last year when we really struggled," said defenceman Mike Green. "It was tough to come to the rink. It wasn't a very fun atmosphere.

"Now we love it. We spend more time here during the day than at home.

"It's a lot of fun. When we go out people are starting to recognize us. There's been great support from the fans."

They had the same ingredients last year, but couldn't put them together. Then Boudreau arrived and everything seemed to fall into place. The Capitals were in 30th place when he accepted the job, then went 37-17-7 over the final 61 games to clinch the Southeast Division. It was their first playoff berth since 2003.

"Once Bruce came everything changed," said Green. "He doesn't play mind games or anything like that. You know exactly what you're going to get from him. He knows the game so well that you just respect him."

STARTING POINT

Boudreau, who won the Jack Adams trophy last season, says it's nice to see the team and the town turned on again, but knows that this is only a starting point.

"The fans in Washington have really taken to the team," he said. "It's been a really nice love affair for the last year or so. We play an exciting brand of hockey and if we continue to do so I think people will come out."

If not, they'll hear about it. With this much talent come higher expectations. Everyone knows how Ottawa blew their shot - they don't want to let the same thing happen here. That's why a modest two-game losing streak, like the one they brought into last night, is cause for serious concern.

"We don't want to lose," said Boudreau. "We put pressure on ourselves. We don't need media or anything else to do it. As individuals and as a group we all put pressure on ourselves to win."

Nobody more than Ovechkin. Few superstars compete harder, and his enthusiasm is contagious.

"We have a good chemistry together, and huge experience from last year," Ovechkin said of their seven-game playoff series with Philly. "This team knows how to fight for the playoffs and how you play in the playoffs.

"We understand that last year was a great year for us, but this year we can improve more and we're ready for it."


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