WASHINGTON — A Stanley Cup championship banner rose to the rafters at the home of the Washington Capitals for the first time, and everyone in attendance Wednesday night got to relive the sheer excitement of it all.
Alex Ovechkin and the other players, who craned their necks to see the video montages of last season on the overhead scoreboard — and couldn't help but smile. Coaches, too, including new head man Todd Reirden. Not to mention the owner and the GM and the assistant equipment manager and anyone else on staff.
And, importantly, the fans, decked out in their jerseys — most of them in the team's main color, red, so many with Ovechkin's No. 8. They sang along to “We Are the Champions!” in full throat and shook their team-distributed glow sticks during a half-hour ceremony before Washington opened the regular season by beating the Boston Bruins 7-0 behind a pair of goals from Evgeny Kuznetsov and one apiece from Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie (just 24 seconds in), Nic Dowd, John Carlson and Lars Eller.
They roared at any mention of “champions.” Or any clip of Ovechkin. Or, especially, when there were glimpses of “The Save” by Braden Holtby in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Vegas Golden Knights, and Eller's Cup-winning goal in Game 5, and Ovechkin kissing the trophy for the first time back on June 7.
Each burst of cheers sounded as if the games from months ago were being played all over again.
“You are the world's greatest fans,” Capitals owner Ted Leonsis told the crowd, “and tonight we get to recognize the world's greatest hockey team.”
The banner signifying the NHL championship was revealed toward the end of the festivities, slowly lifted to the ceiling, its rise paused long enough for the players to gather on the ice in front of it for photos, the Stanley Cup itself resting nearby on the ice.
There already were five red banners hanging from the rafters to signify some sort of accomplishment by the Capitals: Three represent a total of 11 division titles, one marks the team's pair of Eastern Conference titles, and the last celebrates a trio of Presidents' Trophy triumphs.
None, of course, is quite as significant as the piece of material hoisted on this night.
A few hours beforehand, Ovechkin and his teammates, wearing jackets and ties, walked a red — appropriate, eh? — carpet outside their downtown arena, posing for selfies and signing autographs.
“It's a great night. This organization, Washington, has put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this championship,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said at his team's morning skate. “Good for them. I congratulate them.”
Cassidy's own connection to the Capitals is actually rather significant. He coached them to the playoffs in 2002-03, then was fired just 25 games into the next season, when the team was so bad it wound up winning the draft lottery — allowing Washington to select a guy by the name of Ovechkin with the No. 1 overall pick.
Not only would Ovechkin go on to score more than 600 goals and win three league MVP awards as one of hockey's most prominent (gap-toothed) faces, but he also became Washington's captain and, therefore, the first player in franchise history to get to grab the Stanley Cup. He carried it again Wednesday, bringing it onto the ice and taking a half-lap around the rink — serenaded by “Ovi! Ovi!” — as the last player introduced.
That famous silver chalice, etched for the first time with the Capitals' names, made a trek around the nation's capital throughout Wednesday. Not only did the Capitals put an end to their own futility, they also earned the first championship for any of the city's teams in the four North American major professional sports leagues since the NFL's Redskins won the Super Bowl in 1992.
“They made it OK to believe,” said ceremony emcee John Walton, the Capitals' radio voice.
“Let's go, Caps!” rang out in the stands as the banner's rise concluded. That chant soon shifted to “Back-to-back!” after Ovechkin skated the Cup off the ice and, after giving it a kiss, placed it in its black carrying case, the celebration over, the title defense soon off to quite a start.