It's Okay to Believe

On Sunday morning, I was sitting by myself in my apartment in Southwest, bawling my eyes out. It was a full-on, pass-the-tissues, who-cut-an-onion-in-here, happy tears session.

The reason for my joyous tears was that I was watching this video montage on the Washington Capitals. From the epic music, to the shots of the city, to the throwback footage of the players, to the highlight reel goals; it was just all too much for my emotions, as I thought about all I’ve gone through as a Caps fan.

Having grown up 10 minutes from the MD - DC line in Bethesda, all I’ve ever known as a diehard DC sports fan is pain and heartbreak. Every major pro sports franchise in Washington has found a unique way to get my hopes up and crush my soul with a devastating loss in the postseason. The Washington Capitals, in particular, have had a special way of disappointing their fans during Alex Ovechkin’s 13-year career in the District.

This year, though, things are different for Ovechkin and the Caps. After their 3-1 victory on Saturday night at Capital One Arena, the “Boys in Red” have taken a 2-1 series lead in the Stanley Cup Finals. They’ve won 14 games this postseason, and they must win 2 more if they want to lift Lord Stanley’s Cup.

DC sports fans went absolutely bananas in the streets of DC after Game 3. With the ultimate goal in sight, it’s a great moment to reflect on how we got here.

 

The narrative about the Ovechkin-era Capitals has always been, “great regular season team, but they can’t get past the second round of the playoffs.” Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins dashed our Cup dreams in 2009, 2016 & 2017. Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers did the same in 2012, 2013, and 2015. Names like Jaroslav Halak (former Montreal Canadiens goalie) still give Caps fans nightmares almost 10 years after he stole a 1st Round series from the team.

Blown leads. Blowout losses at home in Game 7s. Marathon overtime games that end in an L for Washington. You name it. We’ve been through the ringer with this hockey franchise.

As a fan, this story wears on you. It becomes a heavy burden because you begin to think you belong to a “cursed” fanbase; that maybe you’ll never know what it feels like to root for a champion. You begin to think to yourself, “maybe I should take up a new hobby.” All of the pain, all of the disappointment - it piles up over the years.

Sports fans are irrational beings. We spend ridiculous amounts time, money, energy and emotion to follow a team of individuals who play a game for a living. We have absolutely zero control over the outcome of each game, and yet, we pour our heart and soul into our team every year. Because we devote so much to our favorite teams, it makes the big losses so much more devastating. For that same reason, though, it makes the big wins euphoric.

The scene in Chinatown after Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

The scene in Chinatown after Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

The story of this year’s Capitals team in the postseason is something out of a Hollywood writers’ room.

It began with 2 consecutive overtime losses at home to the Columbus Blue Jackets way back on April 12th. Every single Caps fan thought to themselves, “here we go again.” And yet, the hockey gods had something else in store for us this year. After Lars Eller deflected in the game-winner in Double OT of Game 3 against Columbus, suddenly the Caps were rolling.

Washington went on to win 4 straight against Columbus, and move onto the Second Round against the hated Pittsburgh Penguins. Again, the Caps lost a Game 1 at home by blowing a 2-goal lead in the 3rd period. It was classic Caps - Pens in the playoffs. Fans thought they were toast. Instead, Ovechkin and his mates elevated their game and got the monkey of their backs to beat Crosby and the Pens.

Evgeny Kuznetsov netted the series-clinching goal in Game 6 against the Penguins, and DC sports fans were ecstatic. There was a huge collective sigh of relief from the fanbase, mirrored on the face of the Capitals captain. They had finally gotten past Pittsburgh. Maybe, just maybe, this year would be different.

The Tampa Bay Lightning were the next hurdle on DC’s quest for the Cup. Minus one of their best players, Nicklas Backstrom, for Games 1 and 2, the Caps took it to the Bolts in Tampa, securing two dominant victories. The Eastern Conference Finals took a major turn when the series came to Washington, as the Lightning returned the favor and took Games 3 and 4 in DC; then, took a 3-2 series lead after a Game 5 victory. However, Braden Holtby shut the door on the Lightning with back-to-back shutouts in Games 6 and 7 for the Eastern Conference Title.

Caps fans found themselves on the brink of euphoria, with a team on its way to Las Vegas for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Now we are getting to experience iconic moments that we’ll never forget. The Save, by Braden Holtby, literally saved Game 2 for Washington. The Shimmy, by Devante Smith-Pelly, after a big goal in Game 3, was pure ecstasy. And with a 2-1 series lead, we are inching even closer to the city’s first major pro sports title since 1992.

I was about three months old when the Washington Redskins won that last title. It was the third championship in 10 years for the Skins - the end of a glorious era of football under Coach Joe Gibbs. Perhaps you can understand, then, why I was overcome with emotion watching that Caps video montage yesterday morning.

Like many of my peers, I have devoted so much time and energy to DC sports throughout my life, only to be disappointed over and over again. With the Capitals on the brink of a Stanley Cup title, all of the pain feels like it was worth it. I feel vindicated for pouring my heart and soul into DC sports. And if Alex Ovechkin lifts the Cup in the next week, it will be that much sweeter because of the long, hard road to get there.

It’s okay to believe, DC. And it’s okay to cry sometimes too, okay?

Washingtonian on a mission to help people get the most out of life in the nation’s capital.