The Washington Redskins won the Super Bowl in 1992, a little more than a year after I moved to town. I didn’t care; I grew up as a St. Louis football Cardinals fan and hated the Redskins, was living in a world of weird on a work assignment in New Hampshire and remain to this day a non-fan of the franchise.
What I didn’t realize: That. Would. Be. It.
That Redskins title would be the last for DC in the Big Four sports (football, baseball, basketball, hockey) until this very day, 26-plus years later. Sure, the Washington Capitals somehow made it to the Stanley Cup finals in 1998, but that was widely considered a fluke appearance. They got swept, and deservedly so, by a legendary Detroit Red Wings squad. Only the worst sports homers were surprised. It was a great, amazing thing that they just got there.
After the Caps got to the Cup final, 20 years went by. No Big Four team from DC even went to a semifinal in that time. The Redskins became a cosmic joke, and on the rare occasions they made the playoffs, they generally folded up like a tent. The Caps made the playoffs all of the time, occasionally as the best team in the NHL by record, but their playoff futility (so much of it at the hands of the hated Pittsburgh Penguins) became the stuff of endless pain.
No one really expected the Wizards to rise far above mediocrity (which is still true). And I can’t talk about the Nationals. I just can’t.
Fast-forward to today. The Capitals just won the Eastern Conference title via not one, but two Big Boy stompings of a hugely talented Tampa Bay squad. They beat the Penguins before that to get to the semifinals, and they rallied from losing the first two games at home against Columbus in the first round.
They have, in short, absorbed several punches to the gut in these Stanley Cup playoffs — the kinds of punches that would cause previous Caps teams to roll up in the fetal position. Instead, these Caps have responded by punching their opponent right in the mouth.
Now comes Las Vegas, of all teams. That is an amazing story. Most of sports-fan America is going to root for Vegas — from an empirical standpoint, how can you not? — and the Knights have the home ice advantage because of their superior record. But Tampa was even better record-wise (and I think talent-wise) than Vegas, Pittsburgh was the two-time defending Stanley Cup champ, and Columbus was scalding hot and rising at season’s end. The Caps put them all down.
These Caps have no fear. These Caps don’t quit. These Caps aren’t like all those other Caps teams. I don’t know if it will be enough to win it all, but it’s enough to give a fan some faith.