Caps have right stuff

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:52 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- A few days ago, Barack Obama hosted the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins at the White House.

Before the president's first term expires in 2012, many believe he'll be having the local team pop over for a similar celebration, maybe with Michelle, the girls and Bo the family dog, posing with Alex Ovechkin and the Cup.

The Penguins, Red Wings and others will have a say whether that dream scene is played out as soon as next spring. But it can be argued the Caps have never been closer to the title, even if you include Ron Wilson's one-trip wonders in 1998, who were swept by Detroit in the final.

It's not just the presence of Hart Trophy winner Ovechkin and his 60-goal potential, it's his explosive linemates Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Semin, emerging scorers such as Brooks Laich and blueline points machine Mike Green.

Coach Bruce Boudreau seems to be the right man for the times, having nurtured some of the young talent on the farm before getting the big job two years ago.

They might have to tweak the goaltending at some point with the jury out on Jose Theodore and Semyon Varlamov, but don't tell the fans to temper expectations.

Since the Washington Nationals passed the 100-loss mark, the Redskins lost to the terrible Detroit Lions and the Wizards aren't conjuring up any NBA hardware, you could hang a Caps' sweater on the Lincoln Memorial and get off with a friendly warning.

Two hours before last night's game with the Maple Leafs, a sellout crowd lined up around the Verizon Center, one youngster with a miniature Cup bolted to a hockey helmet. The 18,277 seats are going to be filled most game nights.

"The fans are rabid," said Caps' broadcaster Craig Laughlin, "and TV ratings are through the roof."

Team owner Ted Leonsis can laugh now, after taking an awful ribbing the past 10 years for hanging on to the last place team, then blowing it up.

"There were a couple of years where I was the butt of jokes," Leonsis told the Washington Times. We took the risk (a total rebuild) because we didn't have that strong of a fan base.

"Now we have this great team. We delivered on what we said we were going to do."

Leonsis said he was surprised to hear Leafs general manager Brian Burke's remarks that Leaf fans won't settle for a long stint in the basement.

"I never understood why a team doesn't just fess up and say: 'We are going to build for the draft, and it will be good for you, like eating your vegetables ... fans do like us now. But what we are missing is the Cup."

LANCE.HORNBY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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