As they say in the stock market, past performance is not indicative of future results, so this is not a prediction. But there is something eerily similar about the road the Washington Nationals are traveling versus the roadmap used by the Washington Capitals last year in winning the Stanley Cup.
The Nats, as much as I love them, are a flawed team. They have excellent talent at certain positions, but they’ve invested in that talent at the expense of the bullpen. Manager Davey Martinez – the kind of guy you pull for because he seems to be such a genuinely good guy – hasn’t been the greatest at pushing the right buttons with that flawed bullpen and the regular season reflected that with the team at one point being 19-31.
Even as they started winning, that trend never totally went away. Every 10 to 14 days, you’d turn off the television and think “there’s another one they should have won but blew in the last two innings.” Because of that, I think most Nats fans being honest with themselves would admit at one point during the season they didn’t think the team would make the playoffs. And if they did, they’d get beat in the wildcard game.
The Caps sort of did the same thing. From early January to early March in 2018, they were 10-10 over a 20-game stretch and didn’t look good. They’d lose 3 in a row, win two in a row, then lose two more in a row. Four of the losses during that stretch were in overtime, blowing leads in the final minute, then losing in OT (substitute bullpen for goalie and you’ve got the same deal). Since the team could never seem to get past the second round, many were saying on Twitter that the good news was this year, that wouldn’t happen. They’d just get eliminated in the first round and save us all the aggravation.
It’s the Sunday after the final Washington Capitals regular-season game.
I have a decision to make.
Do I come to my senses, realize this relationship with the Caps is only going to get my hopes up every year, then crush my heart like a grape the minute it gets to the second round of the playoffs? Or do I lie to myself, saying what’s happened in the past doesn’t mean anything, and this is the season they go deep into the playoffs.
Yeah, I know. I’m going to lie to myself. Again.
I have scanned several newspapers in search of stories that would help me with the decision. But after reading the online versions of the Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, Columbus Dispatch, Richmond Times-Dispatch, New York Post and Philadelphia Inquirer in search of comforting information, I could find none.
In any other sport, if you knock over the person in front of you like an anxious Mom at a Black Friday sale trying to get the last big-screen television, a whistle blows and some sort of penalty is called.
But apparently not in the NHL.
As you can see in the video here, Ryan Reaves cross-checks John Carlson to the ice like a snowplow clearing a road. With that road cleared, he easily took a nine-iron to the puck, launching it on an upward trajectory and scored what would turn out to be the winning goal.
Imagine if this happened in football: A tight end is in the end zone, pushes the safety in the back to the ground, then catches the ball for a touchdown.
Penalty every time.
Imagine in basketball. Two players are jostling for position and while the ball caroms off the rim, one pushes the other in the back to the floor. Left alone, the other player gets the rebound and easily scores a layup.
Foul every time. Maybe even a flagrant foul.
How about baseball? Runner is caught in a rundown between first and second. A fielder gets in his way and the runner gives a two-handed shove to the fielder, driving his nose into the dirt before making it safely to the bag.
He’s out. Probably ejected from the game too.
So how could this happen in the National Hockey League? I mean, I know I’m a casual fan who does not know every minute rule of the league. But this was not subtle. A dog with a note in his mouth would have called it. And before you think that yes, it’s obvious now with the benefit of instant replay, NHL officials had that benefit during the game too.
Many a time officials will huddle, consult league headquarters, and ask them to look at all the angles when a goal is scored. They look at everything from a possible goaltender interference penalty, to whether the puck actually moved across the line. This one didn’t take a lot of looks. Reaves knocked Carlson down like a starving man on his way to an all you can eat buffet, then used that advantage to score on a clear path for a goal.
It just occurred to me that I may have to stop writing stuff for this site for another week or two.
It's because I am extremely superstitious when it comes to sports (don’t laugh, you know you are too). Around mid-April, the Caps were down 2-0 in the first round of the playoffs, every time I mentioned them something bad happened to them, and I stopped. They rebounded, won the series with Columbus, then Pittsburgh, then Tampa Bay.
So Friday, believing the curse was over, I started posting regularly again.
Then the Caps lost Monday night.
I realize the actions of one old man in Ashburn Farm should not have any effect on the play of a dozen or more professional athletes from all over the world who are doing battle 2,000 miles away. But sports fans are not always given to rational thought.
And I’m not alone in this regard.
I, for example, know whether my favorite team won or lost when I was wearing just about every shirt or jersey I own. If I eat a particular meal and one of my teams has a big win, I eat the same meal before the next big game. If I get up and go in the kitchen for a particular soft drink or snack and I come back and my team has hit a home run, scored a touchdown, gotten a goal, etc….I go back and get another when that teams needs a big play.
It is a peaceful, quiet, rainy Sunday morning. The Nationals and Caps both had big wins last night.
And I don’t know how to act.
As a life-long Washington sports fan, I was told at a young age that area teams would give you a few bright spots, but by and large, in the end they will break your heart. Aside from an NBA championship when I was in college and 3 Super Bowls, that advice has proven true.
But yesterday’s games have me on the edge of the unthinkable: The title drought may not only end soon with the Caps, there may be another one by year end. The mere act of thinking this is like going into a crowded room in a Harry Potter movie and yelling “Voldemort.” Several times, in fact.
With the Caps, it all starts and ends with Alex Ovechkin. He is so hungry to get a ring that he gives every ounce of energy and passion he has on every play, and it has infected the rest of the team. What was once a club that could unexplainably be all-world one night and passive resistive the next has caught fire. All four lines are going at it in overdrive, and they now only need two more wins and we’re all hoisting the Stanley Cup.
This is where I don’t know how to act. You can’t help but notice the weaknesses in Las Vegas’ game through the first three contests. If a cross-checking penalty on Ryan Reaves is properly called, the Caps are probably up 3-0 and on the verge of a sweep Monday night at home. We would have people climbing street lights in downtown DC until Thursday. It would be bedlam (and still might but just at a later date).
Years from now, all anyone will remember is the Capitals – if they win one more game – won the Stanley Cup. They’ll remember Devante Smith-Pelly, Tom Wilson, T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Alex Ovechkin among others. They’ll remember the city absolutely losing its mind, turning city streets in D.C. into Times Square on New Year’s Eve.
But they may not remember just what a crazy emotional roller coaster ride these playoffs have been. I’ve never seen a team be declared dead so often, then get up off the mat and charge the hill one more time.
I will admit that back in March I had a feeling the Caps would win the Stanley Cup (I also had the same feeling that the Nationals will be up and down all year and then win the World Series in the fall). Such thoughts are best kept to yourself, because if true you’ll curse the team, and if false, you’ve set yourself up for a deserved round of mocking.
My reasoning was simple: no one expected the Caps to win. After really good teams the last two years (and really big disappointments in the playoffs) this team was not supposed to be as good. They’d be lucky, some experts said, to even get to the second round and then lose like they always do. They weren’t even extending coach Barry Trotz’s contract because there was no confidence he’d get past the second round. Again.
It would be so Cap-ish, I thought, if this was the year they won it all.
So in round one, just to give my prediction the middle finger, they do the unthinkable. Lose game 1 in overtime. At home. Then follow it up by losing game 2. In overtime. At home. “Just get it over and lose the next two so we can be done with all this” was a popular sentiment. I was already planning my yearly trip to sporting goods stores to buy their Caps merchandise marked 50 percent off now that the season was over, only this would mark my earlier excursion ever.
But they won game 3 in double overtime and won 4 straight to win the series. I don’t care how big a fan you are, nobody saw that coming. Even with that flair for the dramatic, however, it wasn't like a booster shot of optimism for long-time observers. It just qualified the Caps, many thought, for their annual beating by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
After 4 games, it was tied 2-2. The Penguins weren’t their normal selves either, so there was hope. But decades of crushing playoff losses, usually in multiple overtimes, dictated each team would win at home and set up another nerve-testing Game 7 that the Caps would undoubtedly lose. Because that’s what they do.
The Caps won their home game. Then the Penguins kept their end of the deal by tying the game at the end of regulation. “Here it comes,” I thought, but instead Kuznetsov scored 5 minutes into the first overtime, and an old man was doing Kuzy’s bird dance throughout my house seconds later.
If you have followed the antics of Alex Ovechkin, his teammates and the Stanley Cup since they all landed at Dulles Friday, you’d have to think this group is Dan Snyder’s worst nightmare.
I’m not saying everyone is now going to stop following pro football and embrace hockey. The fanbase for that franchise is deep and isn’t going anywhere immediately.
But that fanbase is old. It’s my generation that has a closet filled with Redskins jerseys and will follow them until they die. The younger generation that has just gotten out of college does not have that loyalty. They don’t seem to be going to live sporting events as evidenced by more and more empty seats around the country. The value for high-priced tickets to any team’s games, much less one that isn’t all that much fun to follow come playoff time, just doesn’t seem to be there.
Then these guys come along. Watching Ovi and company is like watching a bunch of modern-day Beatles remaking “A Hard Day’s Night.” Heck, as hard as these guys are going at it, they could call it “A Hard Day’s WEEK.”
They are becoming folk heroes in front of our very eyes. First, they win the Stanley Cup. Then they take the Cup all over Las Vegas like a group of guys who are maniacs on a mission. They make the movie “The Hangover” look tame, and I figured no one can go at that pace two days in a row. They’ll calm down when they get home, logic dictated.
Dear Wheaties: I have a suggestion for you. A great one. Really, I do.
Yesterday, the sports fans of Washington D.C. had the perfect day. There were close to half a million fans Rockin’ The Red throughout the city, finishing up a four-day celebration bender on behalf of the Washington Capitals. It was beyond our wildest dreams, everything went incredibly well, and now that we have to return to reality, there is something on everyone’s minds.
We want anything that reminds us of the euphoric feeling of the last four days. We’re buying up newspapers, magazines, overpriced T-shirts, overpriced hats, bobbleheads that won’t ship until this area has another solar eclipse…anything we can glance up and look at that puts a smile on our face and reminds us of that time Ovi and the boys dove in fountains, drank enough to drown, and made us feel like we were part of the fraternity party they were participating in.
Which brings us to Wheaties. Back in 1987 when Doug Williams led the Washington Redskins to 35 points in the second quarter of the Super Bowl with Denver and brought home a trophy to the most powerful city in the world, you put Doug on the front of your cereal box. We all bought them, and even though it’s been 31 years, the box is still sitting on a shelf in my library. Along with countless other pieces of memorabilia, it is firmly entrenched next to the Sonny Jurgensen autographed helmet, the Darrell Green bobblehead, and a host of miniature helmets representing every different one the Redskins have played with in the last 5 decades.
The taste, the number of vitamins, the percentage of nutrients and minerals…none of that matters. You could fill these boxes with shredded paper and nobody around here would care. That Wheaties box is pure nostalgia to us with Doug Williams on the box front. So now you need to do another one with our boys in the band from the Capitals.
Put Alex Ovehckin on the front holding the Stanley Cup Trophy over his head like he’s done several thousand times in the last four days and you won’t have a box left on any shelves in the DMV. Put the pic of the Caps on stage at the celebratory rally, looking out into a sea of red much like all the performers at Woodstock had to face when they went on stage in 1969, and you will get similar results.
This is what they call in the business “low-hanging fruit.” We here in the surrounding areas of the Nation’s Capital have been famished for a title for a long time and we’ve just been served. Now we’re craving something else…not necessarily your whole grain flakes, but a pretty package these good sources of B vitamins and fiber come in. Give us a Caps box, and we’ll give you some sales figures that will have you dancing like Ovi on the roof of Café Milano late at night.
As you can see, I’ve included mock-ups of both. So come on, General Mills. Don’t go looking to re-invent the wheel with ideas like those wizards who came up with the International House of Burgers. Do the right thing. Get the Washington Capitals on the front of your cereal box.
Today I was out and about just like half of Northern Virginia, shopping for Caps Stanley Cup merchandise.
It was painful. I haven’t paid full retail in 27 years. But there is a certain competitiveness after a team wins a championship, and while everyone can order online and have stuff Monday, I needed something yesterday. Even if it meant paying through the nose.
I actually did find something yesterday when my wife was out shopping with my daughter. She brought home a shirt that was the price of four large pizzas from Papa Johns, and while it looked nice, it didn’t fit right. So we went back today to return it and discovered there were new and better things to max out your credit card on.
You have to be quick. I started off with the Tervis mug you see in the picture to the right. It says it will keep things cool for 8 hours, but I think having that mug with the “Stanley Cup Champions” and Washington Capitals logo on it is going to be cool for 8 years or longer.
They also had shirts that said “Our Year”, which is exactly what my sentiment is. The Caps won the title Thursday night and throughout the playoffs have been incorporating the Nationals into a lot of their celebrations like older brothers showing their younger brethren the ropes. I think that’s going to pay off in the fall, as a number of players are going to remember this and dig deep to be able to experience all of this for themselves and their teammates.
Plus, it was the only one left in my “jumbo petite” size. Seconds after I grabbed the shirt, I turned to the table that had “Stanley Cup Champions” hats on it only a minute before for my next purchase. The table was empty. More will be coming in soon, I was told. You snooze, you lose is now the law of the Stanley Cup merchandise jungle.
Still, two out of three wasn’t bad. I went home, filled the tumbler full of ice, and poured my beverage of choice – iced tea – into it. Probably the millionth glass of iced tea I’ve had in my life.
But easily, after a Stanley Cup title I've waited 40 years for, the sweetest. :)
Nothing like a day at the ballpark, as the Caps came to Nats Park to show off the Stanley Cup. At top, Alex Ovechkin throws the first pitch just a bit high, but when you win a Cup, you get a mulligan. Below, Ovechkin notices that every time he raises the Cup over his head, people strangely seem to cheer wildly....
It’s after 1:30 AM, and I don’t want to go to bed. I don’t want what just happened tonight to end.
Tonight was more than hockey, more than winning a Stanley Cup. It’s the finish to a journey that has ended in disappointment at every bend in the road for such a long freaking time. Lucy has been forever pulling the football up as the Charlie Brown Capitals tried to kick it for over 40 years. Every year the season has ended with the Caps lying flat on their backs looking up at the sky.
Not tonight. ‘Ol’ Lucy was a little too slow pulling the football away this time, and Charlie Brown nailed it. Right through the uprights.
They did it. They absolutely freaking did it.
I cannot tell you how many times in my life I have gone to bed in utter disbelief that the Washington Capitals blew another game or another series, making me stay up for multiple overtimes deep into the night only to crush my sportsfan soul (anyone who saw Pat LaFontaine score that goal in the 4th overtime for the Islanders in 1987 knows what I'm talking about). So when there was less than a second to go and it was apparent the Caps would win, it got a little dusty in here.
Some of it was the realization that two-thirds of my life has gone by waiting for this (I started following them in my 20s. I’m now in my 60s). Some was for others who suffered as much or more than me with this team and didn’t get to see it. Guys like Glenn Brenner, George Michael or Jim Vance. Those guys howled at all the unexpected misses and losses every year and still came back the next season proclaiming this would be the year. They’re all gone now.
Some of it was the respect and happiness for Alex Ovechkin, who has done just about everything in his 13 years in Washington EXCEPT win a title. As much as I wanted to see this happen for Washington sports fans, I wanted to see this more for Ovechkin. When the game was over, players from Las Vegas embraced him as an elder statesman of their sport, much the same way teams lined up to shake the hand of Dale Earnhardt when he finally won the Daytona 500 after so many misses. They knew Ovi deserved it. And were happy for him.
Some of it was watching an interview with T.J. Oshie, talking about his father and his battle with Alzheimers. I lost my father-in-law to that terrible disease 12 years ago, and I can tell you from experience that you wonder every day if the day will be a good day or a bad day when it comes to remembering things. T.J. was in tears explaining how special it was to have his Dad there at the game, hoping the memory would be powerful enough to last the rest of his days.
“He doesn't remember a lot of stuff these days,” Oshie said, wiping away tears. “He remembers enough. But I tell you what. He's here tonight - I don't know where he's at - but this one will stick with him forever, you can guarantee that.”
The room got even dustier after that.
But the moment I’ve really been waiting to see is the Commissioner of the NHL – Gary Bettman – handing Lord Stanley’s trophy to Ovechkin, imagining he would hold it high, bursting with pride as he showcased it around the ice. He didn’t disappoint, adding a few primal screams and kissing the Cup before handing it off to the guy who has waited just about as long as he has, Nick Backstrom. It was Ovi’s time to shine, but also the time to face all of his critics and say “I finally got this. Now bite me.”
The chase has been so long I have many times said I just wanted to see them win a Cup before I died. Mike Harris, who is an editor at The Athletic, is the same age as I and he has also said the same expression many times. When the Cup was finally hoisted, I tweeted at him “does this mean starting tomorrow that we might, um, oh never mind.” Mike, ever the expert wordsmith, replied with the perfect answer.
“I hope not,” he typed back. “But if I do, I do with a smile.”