WASHINGTON - The Capitals are Stanley Cup champions. Revel in it. Rejoice, because it’s real.
That’s what I said to myself before I went to bed last night after leaving Capital One Arena and that’s what I had to tell myself this morning when I woke up but I still didn’t believe it. Instead, I turned on the local news, just to be sure. I checked the score of the game on my phone a few times before finally getting up. I checked the group text, recounting the events of the evening and had to make sure that all the tweets I sent were real and not just some lucid dream.
It happened. The Capitals finally brought DC sports a winner. The curse of Les Boulez, or the football team’s name, or whatever else you want to call it is dead and gone. For the first time in my life the cloud of not only impending doom wasn’t hanging over a Washington sports team. For the first time, coming into a game with incredibly high stakes, we all knew.
“We’re taking this, dude. We deserve this,” a fan yelled at me as I walked through Capital One’s concourse.
He was right. Washington did deserve this. This was 26 years in the making. This was the 40 years to the day of the Bullets winning their first title. This was our moment. It was the right time, too, as fate would have it. There was no way this wasn’t happening.
The day was set up perfectly. The Mystics game served as the perfect precursor to the Capitals’ watch party. The streets of Gallery Place were packed from block to block, filling the space with a wavy sea of red. The weather was just right. It was our day.
Capital One Arena from Section 115. Tonight's watch party is a little over an hour away. The arena is flooded in red. (@wusa9) #ALLCAPS pic.twitter.com/xIdRC8UpNO— John Henry (@JohnHenryWUSA) June 7, 2018
But the Caps still had a game to play. And an early 1-0 lead early in the second period boosted the morale of everyone in the building. There was an aura in the building after that first goal — 40 more minutes to go until we’re champs. But the Knights responded three minutes later.
Whenever the Caps scored, the Knights were right there. And then they lost the lead. The building grew tense. Confidence waned. Fans shifted from hanging off the edges of their seats to being suspended between a point of the highest elation and the crash of a lifetime for many of them.
DC sports reared its ugly head once again — maybe for old time’s sake or maybe just because it could. I’m not sure how the Sports Gods work, but I do know they’re cruel. And in the back of my mind, and I’m sure everyone else’s, I thought about the other 3-1 leads the Capitals have blown. I thought about the Penguins. I thought about the Rangers. And I don’t even watch hockey.
So imagine being one of the 20,000 or so die-hard Capital fans in the building. Of course it wasn’t going to be easy, but when you’re so used to heartbreak you just want a bit of mercy. This is a feeling we all know. It’s John Wall hitting a game winner in Game 6 only to run out of gas during Game 7. It’s Max Scherzer blowing a Game 3 lead against the Cubs. It’s RG3 never panning out and Kirk Cousins becoming your savior. We all know this failure.
But you can’t kill a demon without confronting it first. That’s not just sports, that’s in life. Remaining poised is what DC sports teams have never been able to do, but the Caps did it. Devante Smith-Pelly scored a sick goal while falling to the ground — a moment that needs to be immortalized in some way in the halls of the arena.
Construction will soon begin on the Devante Smith-Pelly sculpture where he’ll forever be diving and slipping a puck between the columns of the Lincoln Memorial. pic.twitter.com/dqoUFPEOVi— Chris Peters (@chrismpeters) June 8, 2018
Then, Lars Eller brought things home with a few minutes just less than eight minutes to go. The inevitable agony was washed away into the past. The curse was officially broken. No, we didn’t just go to the Conference Finals — we won the whole damn thing. That’s not just hunger, it’s greed. But in a good way, of course.
When the clock struck zero, the arena exploded. The perpetual sorrow we faced was gone. The Capitals cleared the way. They weren’t expected to do this this season. If I told you a hockey team in Las Vegas would make the NHL Finals and eventually lose to the Capitals two years ago, you’d probably call me crazy. And I honestly couldn’t blame you, because this is nuts.
I still can’t believe it, but it’s real. The Capitals won. They’ve cleared the path. The rest of the teams in the area have to follow, but let’s not worry about that right now. Let’s celebrate this win, because it’s not just today. It’s not just this week. It’s not just this year. A championship is forever.