Jimmy Patterson was a fresh-faced 22-year-old in the stands at the old Capital Centre in October 1974 when the expansion Washington Capitals won for the first time.
As he was leaving Cheap Jamal Adams Jersey , an elderly man from Brooklyn told Patterson he’d always get to say he saw the Capitals’ first win. The man smiled and added, ”You can’t lose ’em all.”
Forty-plus years, more than 3,000 games and 27 unsuccessful playoff runs later, Patterson and legions of longtime Capitals fans finally have a reason to believe that. Many who watched Wednesday night at an arena watch party far from Game 7 in Tampa Bay took to the steps of the National Portrait Gallery to celebrate the Capitals’ first trip to the Stanley Cup Final since 1998. Game 1 in Las Vegas against the Golden Knights is Monday night.
”It’s been really gratifying,” said Patterson, now 65. ”It feels a lot different, and it’s a weird feeling.”
Filling the area, fans chanted, ”We want the Cup,” ”We want Vegas” and ”DC! DC!” in an outpouring of joy decades and crushing losses in the making. Alex Ovechkin’s Capitals are the first Washington team in the major four professional sports leagues to reach the final in a generation. To get this far, they had to not only outlast the Lightning but survive longtime playoff nemesis Pittsburgh, which has won the last two championships.
”It’s been 20 long, dry years and we are back,” Capitals public address announcer Wes Johnson said. ”This is catharsis. Once we beat the Penguins, then you could see that the fan base was like, `Let’s just play hockey.’ As John Walton said, it’s OK to believe. It’s not just OK to believe. Just believe.”
Among markets with teams in the NFL Walter Payton Jersey Youth , NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball, only the Twin Cities in Minnesota has a longer championship drought going than Washington. The Redskins won their third Super Bowl title in January 1992 and it’s been mostly grim since then. None of the Redskins, Wizards, Nationals and Capitals even reached a league semifinal from 1998 until this spring.
In that same time, Boston’s teams have made 25 league semifinal appearances and won 10 titles. Maybe success is contagious.
”Last year all of those (other Washington) teams made the playoffs and then it was like, hey we got to do the same too, and we dropped the ball,” Redskins running back Chris Thompson said. ”If you see your D.C. teams succeeding and the Capitals now (in) the finals and stuff like that, it’s a little bit of motivation.”
The Capitals got over the hump in their 10th playoff appearance after early exits marred by sudden-death overtime winners, a hot goaltender named Jaroslav Halak, the New York Rangers and – of course – the Penguins.
”It’s just been one nightmare after another,” said Anthony Beverina, who has had season tickets in section 417 since 1997-98. ”And it makes you wonder if there’s some inherit either cosmic conspiracy or a core character issue in the core guys.”
The nightmare has slowly felt like a dream on this playoff run, which was unexpected following an offseason of salary-cap casualties in the wake of another crushing second-round loss to Pittsburgh. Players rallied around lower preseason expectations, and even going into the playoffs Washington wasn’t supposed to do this.
”This team is so fun,” said George Christo, a Boston transplant who has had season tickets since 1995-96. ”This team is the most fun since that ’98 team primarily because Tyron Smith Cowboys Jersey , both of those teams, who on earth expected either of these teams to be able to get this deep and to be that tough?”
After so many early playoff exits, Capitals fans are reluctant to feel too good about things. Christo said even his children have almost gotten sick of going to games -until this year, which has challenged a lot of the old conventions about doomsday D.C. sports.
”There are people sitting in season-ticket-holder seats because they’re home mashing teeth and biting their fingernails,” Patterson said. ”A lot of fans around the country when their team is in the playoffs, they like to have get-togethers and parties, viewing parties for the away games and stuff like that. But if you’ve been through some of this stuff, after the second game of a playoff series, there won’t be any of that because you can’t have your friends over and watch a game and then have everybody in that awful mood when it’s over and they’re shaking hands and you’re on the losing side.”
It was the opposite Wednesday night when almost 10,000 people wearing red watched on video screens above a basketball court as Capitals players and coaches were on the winning side of their handshake line with the Lightning. Cheers greeted Ovechkin touching the Prince of Wales Trophy and then the flash of the Stanley Cup Final schedule before the series against former general manager George McPhee’s Vegas Golden Knights begins.
”We’re going to the Stanley Cup Final,” Ovechkin said. ”I think everybody is happy, but we still have unfinished, you know what I mean. I don’t know, I’m emotional right now. I think we’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time.”
Game 3 on June 2 will be the first Cup Final game in the district since 1998, when the Capitals were swept by the Detroit Red Wings. One more win will make this the most successful season in franchise history, and though superstition and history keeps fans from thinking about the ”what if” of four more, they’re no l The Washington Capitals will play for a Stanley Cup championship Thursday night for the first time in 43 NHL seasons. Alex Ovechkin is one win away from carving his name into history at the peak of his incredible hockey career.
With a 3-1 lead in the Stanley Cup Final and a city thousands of miles away thirsting for its first championship in a generation, the Vegas stakes are awfully high for the Caps in Game 5.
”To be honest, I think most of us have never been in this position,” said Ovechkin, who could become the first Russian captain to raise the Cup. ”For me personally, I don’t try to think about it too much what’s going on and just try focusing on different things. But it’s hard.”
Exactly what could distract an athlete of Ovechkin’s magnitude from the imminent chance to validate his place in his sport?
”Whatever. Cars. Hotels. You know, Vegas.”
Indeed, this desert is a strange place to end a drought. But with three chances to get one win, Ovechkin and his teammates want to seize their very first opportunity for the clincher on the Las Vegas ice.
With one more victory, Ovechkin would finally have team success to complement his formidable individual accomplishments. The vaunted goal-scorer can also succeed where a generation of Washington athletes have fallen short by leading the Capitals to their first title and the city’s first major pro sports championship in a quarter-century.
With his 33rd birthday looming in the fall, Ovechkin understands the opportunity before him and the magnitude of the situation for everyone who has ever worn the Capitals’ jersey.
It’s enough to tighten anybody’s grip on the stick, but the Caps didn’t appear overly tight during their workout or in the dressing room afterward.
”It’s a great time,” Ovechkin said Wednesday. ”Probably the best time in my life, hockey-wise. We just enjoy it together, this moment. It’s fun.”
Even with a commanding series lead, the Caps all spoke of the importance of consistency and seizing the moment after their light workout. Washington has a shockingly lengthy franchise history of playoff collapses, but these Caps promptly won all three potential closeout games in their first three playoff series this spring.
”Maybe because we’ve talked about it so much,” Caps defenseman John Carlson said. ”Guys are sick of hearing about it from the meetings. Sick of not getting it done. They all kind of blend together, but I think we have come out with great efforts every closing-out game Joe Thomas Jersey Youth , and we’re going to need a big one. This is a good team at home. It’s going to take a really good effort to get it done.”
The Caps don’t have the luxury of thinking about the minor disappointment of not being at home to secure Washington’s first championship in a major pro sport since the Redskins’ Super Bowl victory in January 1992. Back home in D.C., fans will be cheering on their team at Capital One Arena in a watch party that sold out in about 20 minutes.
”I think the history of the organization is definitely an important thing, but we’re focused on this group,” Washington’s Tom Wilson said. ”We’re focused on this year, and obviously once all is said and done or whatever happens, you can look back on it. We want to do it for the city. We want to do it for ourselves.”
So far in this series, the Caps have done just about everything well. Washington has scored 16 goals in four games against the reeling Golden Knights, whose charmed expansion season has run short of magic in three consecutive losses.
While the Caps focused on changing nothing from their last three efforts, the Golden Knights also don’t believe they need a wholesale change. Coach Gerard Gallant’s team is banking on the resilience of a group that hasn’t lost four consecutive games at any point in their utterly charmed inaugural season.
”It’s not the first adversity we’ve faced this year,” forward Jonathan Marchessault said. ”You’d rather have the odds in your favor, but I’m thinking about (Game 5). If you start thinking that we have to win three games, sometimes it gets demoralizing. We’re just focused on the next one. … They’re in a better situation than us, that’s for sure. Stuff we’ve done this year has never been done, so I think that’s what we’re thinking about.”