District of Champions
Updated: Jun 16, 2020
"Fans, we did it. Get some beers. Get some whatever. Start celebrating! We the Stanley Cup champions!"
Happy Anniversary, Ovi.
It's been two years and two days since the Washington Capitals won their first Stanley Cup. So, let's celebrate. Let's all crush a freaking beer for that team and what they meant to this city because they changed the entire landscape of DC sports for our generation.
I mentioned this team's legacy. Their impact. What they meant to the District of Columbia. It had been 26 years (1992) since a Washington sports team had won a championship, back when the Redskins beat the Buffalo Bills with quarterback Mark Rypien at the helm and DC legend Joe Gibbs calling the shots. Our parents would sit around and talk about those Redskins teams: "An 80's dynasty," they would tell us. Joe Theismann. John Riggins. Art Monk. Derrell Green. Art Monk. The Hogs. We remember the names, right? They were the ones that got it done. The ones that solidified DC's spot as a sports city. But where were our names?
So far, as an 18-year-old Washington sports fan, I had never seen one of my teams win a championship (I wouldn't say DC United is one of 'my' teams, so their 2004 MLS Cup victory will not get an invite to the pity party). The Mystics had made it to the conference finals in 2002 and 2017, but other than that, I hadn't even seen a team make it to the conference finals. The last time that happened was in 1998 (the first Capitals' Stanley Cup run).
Year after cursed year, I watched my teams cruise to the playoffs and then choke all of their potential away in theatrical fashion. Let's go back in time:
It's 7-5 in the top of the ninth, and the Nationals are winning in Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals. Drew Storen is on the mound. "Aaaaaand ball four." Again. "Ball four!" Next up, Daniel Descalso (just typing that name makes me shudder) knocks in two, making it a tie ball game. Then, Pete Kozma (*shudder*) knocks in two more. Game over. Season over. I remember laying in my top bunk on a school night listening to that game on a radio app on my iPod Touch. Just picture that (or maybe don't).
The only Nats game that could even come close to rivaling that heartbreak is 2017's NLDS Game 5 against the Cubs in which we lost 9-8. Matt Wieters misses the throw to first base, and Jayson Werth loses the ball in the lights… You know the drill.
Even the Wizards in recent years had hurt us. Those losses to the Celtics and the Hawks stung. I was too young to remember the fruitless Arenas years, so these moments were all that I had. Us beating Kirk Hinrich and the Bulls in five games was all I had! And am I gonna tell my kids about Andre Miller, Garrett Temple, and Marcin Gortat ? (maybe I'll tell them about Marcin).
Finally, the Redskins have had such a limited playoff history since my birth, so I don't think I'll even dignify them with a mention here. But the Redskins and Wizards weren't supposed to get it done. The Capitals were supposed to get it done.
Let's do some numbers. Since 1998, the last time a DC sports team made a conference championship, the Nats had had 4 playoff appearances, the Redskins had 4, the Wizards had 8 (not bad), and the Capitals had 12.
Let's break it down just a little more. In those 12 appearances, 6 of those were conference semi-final exits, and 6 of them first-round exits. The hardest part of these losses was that they were the team to beat on several occasions. In 2010, we were the one seed with a classic Capitals lineup, and we were playing the eight-seeded Montreal Canadiens. We were the Presidents Trophy winner and a team that included Ovi and Backstrom along with Mike Green, Alexander Semin, Brooks Laich, Mike Knuble, Eric Fehr, Jason Chimera, and a very solid goalie in Semyon Varlamov. I mean come on! This team lost to the eight seed?!
Additionally, the Capitals won the Presidents Trophy in back-to-back years in 2016 and 2017. Those accolades resulted in back-to-back conference semi-final losses to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Soul-sucking losses those were. So, my point is that the Capitals were supposed to win, and that's what made those season-ending losses so difficult. Time after time, we were told not to trust them, but ultimately, it's what made the victory that much sweeter.
I gotta say, in 2018, I had fallen into the trap. I was sucked into the pessimism brought on by years of hopeful cheering followed by impending doom. I almost didn't let myself root for the Caps during those playoffs, as I wasn't ready to be heartbroken again. But after a series (versus the lowly Blue Jackets) of indignant rooting on my part, we faced the Penguins in the second round.
Ha! The Penguins.
We got to the Pittsburgh series, and I hated the Penguins so much, I couldn't just stand idly by and watch the series in fear. I had no choice but to be a fan again.
And then it finally happened.
I don't think I've ever screamed louder at my TV after Kuznetsov's Game 6 game-winning goal. John Walton's "THE DEMONS HAVE BEEN EXERCISED" will forever play in my head when I see that goal. After that goal, the curse had been broken. We had made it to the conference finals. After that goal, there was legitimate hope.
After that goal, there wasn't anything that team couldn't and wouldn't accomplish. They beat one of the best teams in the NHL in the Tampa Bay Lightning, and then they went on to crush the new kids on the block, the Las Vegas Golden Knights. Stanley Cup Champions. Just like that.
The Capitals won, and they celebrated. They tried to fit 20 years of grief into one summer, and boy, did they. Not only did this team break the curse, they also opened the floodgates for Washington sports. In 2018 the Washington Valor (the area's arena football team) won the championship. That's right… arena football champions. Soon after, the Nationals won the world series, and the Mystics won the WNBA finals in 2019.
DC = District of Champions.
So go vanquish a beer and pour one out for our boys because they are the names we'll tell our kids about … the 2018 Stanley Cup Champions. The ones that got it done.
Good Morning. Good Afternoon. And Good Night, Washington.