WAHSINGTON-Everyone else in the greater D.C. metro area was thinking it. Wouldn’t Barry Trotz agree that the Washington Capitals’ first Stanley Cup title is a now matter of when, not if?

“Nope,” Trotz said late Monday night. “Not at all.”

That’s exactly what coaches have to say, even though it seems a foregone conclusion that his Capitals will slay the wounded Vegas Golden Knights, perhaps as early as Thursday night’s Game 5.

Yes, his franchise has a well-documented penchant for squandering playoff advantages, and Washington hasn’t celebrated a major championship since Super Bowl XXVI, more than 26 years ago.

But Trotz’s team dominated the Knights in Games 3 and 4 at Capital One Arena and has an 8–3 road record in this postseason. Oh, and by the way, teams that lead 3–1 in Stanley Cup finals have hoisted the Cup 32 out of 33 times.

Even those optimistic facts weren’t enough to get Trotz to bite.

“Obviously, we’d like to get this done so the D.C. community, which is very passionate about sports, will be able to get rid of some demons,” he allowed.

With the way they’re playing, the Capitals probably would have preferred tp start Game 5 just after midnight Tuesday. But they’ll have to endure at least two more skates, a transcontinental plane trip--and the tantalizing feeling of having to wait a little longer to achieve their ultimate goal.

“I’d be lying if I didn’t say it’s going to be crazy the next couple of days,” winger Tom Wilson said. “... But at the end of the day, it’s the same game, ultimately. When the puck drops, we have one job.”

Completing that task would provide a catharsis for the loyal, passionate fan base that Trotz mentioned. Their legacy of woe may not match those of say, Red Sox or Cubs supporters, or even the half-century of Cleveland futility that LeBron James snapped in 2016.

Still, it’s been a long time coming. And the players understand.

T.J. Oshie probably gets it better than anyone. Twice during the playoffs (including Monday night), he’s taken Metro to the arena and mingled with his supporters, hearing first-hand just how desperate they are for a title.

But like every other Capital, he recited the one-game, one-shift-at-a-time mantra that Trotz demands.

“We don’t really dwell on the game before, let alone the things that happened in years past,” Oshie said. “There’s been heartbreak here, we know that. But I think that’s kind of scarred over and has made us a little stronger.”

That resolve showed in Games 3 and 4, when the Capitals outscored Vegas by a combined 9–3 and moved to the threshold of their long-awaited title. They expect the Knights to come out with desperation Thursday night. “Obviously, we’ve got no more room for error,” Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said.

“They’re frustrated,” Capitals forward Brett Connolly said of the Knights. “We’re expecting them to be better in Vegas [Thursday]. It’s gonna take our best game.”

And with the Cup so close, the Capitals contend they still haven’t played that near-perfect 60 minutes. “I think we have another level,” forward Devante Smith-Pelly said.

That echelon may not be required to win one of the next three games. Given their history, the Capitals would prefer not to tempt fate and to wrap things up on Thursday, even if it is 2,500 miles from home.

“You have an opportunity to do something special,” Trotz said he told his players, “but it’s going to be the hardest thing to do. It’s going to be the hardest game to win. But we haven’t played our best game, which is exciting to me. If we play our best game, we’ll give ourselves a chance.”

Capitals fans have waited 44 years for this moment. What’s another couple of days?

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Steve DeShazo: 374-5443

sdeshazo@freelancestar.com

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