It’s over. The stupidest drought in sports is finally over. A Washington D.C. sports team is finally playing for a chance at a championship. Pretty stupid right? That’s how us D.C. natives feel about it, but it feels awesome that we can finally see one of our teams advance to even see a championship round. Heck, it wasn’t even just playing in a championship round, it was to even contend for a conference/league championship. I wrote an article about the curse which should help if you’re not a D.C. Go ahead and read that if you don’t understand The Curse.
The irony behind this all is how the team that has given the fans the most heartbreak, the Washington Capitals, were the ones that ended the drought. It only seemed fitting. However, it didn’t come easy. The first part of the curse to be broken came against their arch-nemesis and back-to-back defending Stanley Cup champion, the dreaded Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins, the team that had given the faithful Capitals fans so many painful memories. This was as good as any of a time to exorcise some demons. While the series ended in six games, the sixth one, in Pittsburgh, was most certainly the most tense any fan had ever felt. The contest just had to go into overtime. At any given moment, the game could end depending on whoever scored first. The city had seen situations like this before and this caused many to become nervous. Scenarios started running through every fans’ head. What if the Penguins won and then won Game Seven? What if all our hopes were let down, yet again?
I was sitting on my couch watching nervously. I almost didn’t want to watch, but knew I had to. Suddenly, Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov slotted the puck underneath the legs of Penguins goalie Matt Murray and slid right into the back of the net. “The Capitals won? The Capitals won!”
I jumped in jubilation. They finally advanced to the conference championship. I was so overjoyed like as if they had just won the Stanley Cup. I finally could watch my hometown compete at for a chance at a conference/league championship. There was one person I immediately thought of, my friend Angie, one of my dearest friends and engaged to not only one of my best friends, but also my oldest friend. She had endured more pain and suffering than anyone I knew as she is the biggest Capitals fan anybody could imagine. I just had to give her a phone call. I couldn’t tell over the phone if or how emotional she was, but I could tell she was finally relieved that they actually advanced. She even said that she didn’t even care if they didn’t make the Stanley Cup, but the fact they actually broke through was all she cared about (though obviously she wants them to win the whole thing, but you get the point).
But, it was not over quite yet as they still had some work to do. They had to finally break it totally. Their next opponent was against the Tampa Bay Lightning, who were the best team in the conference all year long. I didn’t think they would get past them, but the Capitals did just beat Pittsburgh so maybe it could happen. In the first two games, the Capitals won convincingly and took a 2-0 lead in the series. Maybe, just maybe they could do it. But in D.C., you just knew something bad was right around the corner. Tampa Bay would come back strong and win the next three games. Maybe the hockey gods decided that the series win against Pittsburgh was calling it even. Maybe the curse would never end. Every year we thought that it was going to be different, but it turned out to be more of the same. Losing that 2-0 lead in the series to fall to a 3-2 deficit just felt like it was more of the same. The Capitals would win Game Six 3-0, but there still had to be one more played. Another freaking Game Seven. That game had haunted so many fans in the D.C. area as that hearing it only makes them cringe. It just had to go to a seventh game. That entire game I was locked in. My adrenaline was jacked up and even every little pushing and shoving match that occurred had me pumped up. The Capitals were playing so well, the best I have ever seen them play at any point in my Caps viewing history. That showed, as so many shots that the players on the team went out of their way to block and even forward Tom Wilson showing some passion and leadership as he got into a fight with a Lightning player after coming out of the penalty box. It was simply incredible to see how they were playing. Despite being out played in the first two periods, the Capitals won 4-0 in convincing fashion. I sat there with the final seconds clocking down thinking to myself “Is this really happening?” It finally happened. Along with many others, I am finally going to see a team from my hometown compete for a championship for the first time in 20 years.
It was so fitting that the team that brought the most heartbreak to the city was the one who finally ended the curse. It was especially fitting that it was against the Penguins, a team that had haunted them in the playoffs so many times (and that Game Six ended in overtime at Pittsburgh in front of all their fans), against the Lightning who they had never beaten in the playoffs before, and they were able to exorcise two demons (the Penguins and Game Sevens). It couldn’t be any sweeter.
The pouring of emotions from everyone in the city was honestly one of the greatest moments I’ve witnessed as a D.C. sports fan as 20 years is a very long time. We’ve all have had to endure so many painful memories, but they all seem distant now. Yes, there is still one more thing to accomplish: a championship. However, the curse is over and we all can finally enjoy this momentous occasion.
One parallel that I could compare this to is the Boston Red Sox in 2004. While the length of a drought was nowhere near in terms of the D.C. curse and other reasons why it’s a bit different, it was more so the context how both teams got over the hump. The Red Sox had finally vanquished their Arch-Nemesis, the New York Yankees and even came back from a 0-3 deficit (Capitals beating the Penguins and them coming back from a 2-3 deficit to the Lightning) and then finally beat a team they had never defeated in the playoffs before, St. Louis Cardinals, to determine a championship (Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference Championship) as they won the World Series for the first time since 1918. Red Sox fans had gone through so much heartbreak that when it looked like the baseball gods were finally going to give them something to celebrate, something bad always happened. They had grown accustomed to assuming the worst was going to happen and to have their hopes dashed (prime example of this was the ninth inning of the 1986 World Series). Sound familiar D.C.?
This is not the best team that the franchise has ever assembled, but it is now officially the most accomplished. We will never be able to finger point the reasons why the teams before always faltered, but it doesn’t matter anymore. We will never be able to understand why all four major sports teams in the city were never able to succeed in the playoffs when the teams that were assembled were very talented, but it doesn’t matter now. The curse is finally over. While there are three other teams in the city that still need to get over the hump, the people of the city can finally have a reason to celebrate. People from outside of D.C. will never understand the magnitude of this, but if you know someone from the city who is a fan of D.C. sports, you should ask them how they felt the night the Capitals won the Eastern Conference Championship.
How did I feel after all this? Disbelief. Excited. Overjoyed. While there are bigger fans of the Capitals out there than myself, I got emotional. Tears were shed. But they were happy tears. I immediately thought of all my friends who experienced more heartbreak. I thought about all of those moments we had gone through that were so painful. But most importantly, I thought about the city. I love my hometown to death and I am so proud to call myself a Washingtonian. I may not live there now, but if an opportunity came up for me to move back, I would take it. All I wanted was what was best for the city. Heck, even if the Capitals don’t win the Stanley Cup, just to see my hometown host a major championship is all I really wanted. The drought of winning a title is a different story, though in later years, if it continues, it could be something more to talk about, but for right now, let’s celebrate this.
Every year we said it was going to be different, but it was more of the same. This year? Even though we were cautious to say it, we all knew what we felt. This time it was different.
Here is a video that has shown all the heartbreak of D.C. Sports for the past two decades. If you never understood, this will help.