First Stanley Cup means long-suffering Capitals fans need not suffer any longer

There are moments in the experience of a long-suffering fan when the word “never” feels like a promise.

The Washington Capitals’ base can understand this as well as anyone in this region, making what transpired Thursday night that much sweeter.


After 44 seasons, 30-plus of which I’ve experienced among their lifelong fans, the Capitals finally found themselves hoisting the greatest trophy in all of sports — the Stanley Cup.

Having grown up in Laurel and never lived outside the Baltimore-Washington area, I’ve worked in this industry for nearly two decades. And while you have to love sports to do this job, you have to leave most of your fandom behind. “No cheering in the press box” is a lesson learned quickly.


I was raised on the Orioles, the Terps, the Redskins and these Capitals. But I’ve never been willing or able to break up with the Caps.

For the first time in their 44-year history, the Washington Capitals are the Stanley Cup champions.

My last semblance of fandom rested with them, and thus, for years, playoff pain ensued.

Repeated blown 3-1 series leads, Game 7 defeats, unmet expectations, never passing the second round during the Alex Ovechkin era — a multitude of creative and different ways to dig the dagger a little deeper.

In recent years, I’ve gotten used to saying when it comes to the Caps, my heart had developed calluses, a wall that made the pain of every early playoff exit fade a tad quicker and sting a drop less. But hope for what happened Thursday also dimmed. The possibility of “never” began to feel more real.

So, this year — after the likes of core players Karl Alzner, Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams exited because of salary cap constraints — lowered expectations led to a different feeling going into the postseason. It wasn’t a sense that this would happen; just different.

When the Caps came back to beat the Columbus Blue Jackets in six games after losing two straight at home to start their first-round series, the boxes started being checked off.

Whether they be Washington Capitals fans from Baltimore or those who couldn’t get tickets for the Capital One Arena show, people made their own hockey atmosphere at Power Plant Live!’s Stanley Cup Game 5 viewing party.

Next up were the nemesis Pittsburgh Penguins, who had eliminated the Caps nine times in 10 all-time playoff series, with heart-shattering Game 7s in 2009 and 2017.

The moment Evgeny Kuznetsov carved a wedge in the Pittsburgh defense and Ovechkin found him for an overtime breakaway in Game 6 of round two, I know I wasn’t alone in losing emotional control. Real tears streamed as the puck slid between Matt Murray’s legs into the back of the net. The largest roadblock had been removed. The greatest demon had been exorcised.

The next day, a Pittsburgh paper channeled the famous Herb Brooks quote from the 1980 Olympics. When his Team USA trailed Finland after two periods in the gold-medal game just days after staging their Miracle on Ice victory over the Soviet Union, the veteran coach went into the locker room and said: “If you lose this game, you'll take it to your [bleeping] graves. Your [bleeping] graves.”

The application in Pittsburgh was all wrong. The Pens had nothing to regret. They have five Stanley Cups and had won two straight behind star Sidney Crosby.

The Caps, having slayed their dragon after so many too-early endings, had everything to lose if they didn’t finally break through for their first Cup.

Tens of thousands of red-clad Capitals fans partied in the streets Thursday night to celebrate the franchise's first Stanley Cup and the city's first title in the major four professional sports since 1992.

Facing perhaps the best team in the East this season, the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Caps started and finished the series hot, coming back from down three games to two to reach their first Stanley Cup Final since 1998. That different feeling all of a sudden morphed into something like hope.


All that remained in their path was the unlikely upstart in their first season, the Vegas Golden Knights, a team built by the same man who put together the Caps’ foundation, general manager George McPhee.

The gimmicky Golden Knights, with a chaotic style the rest of the league has to hope isn’t a sign of things to come, couldn’t match the Caps’ talent up front nor their discipline in back.

In the end, it proved to be quick work. Going into Thursday’s Game 5, the Caps had one last item hanging over them — their NHL-record five blown 3-1 series leads.

After some tense moments that had the Caps down one going into the third period, a pair of goals in the last 20 minutes put all that history where it belonged: in the past.

My reaction was a mix of disbelief, joy, relief, happiness for the likes of Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom and, yes, more tears. Three decades of being elevated by the highs and devastated by the lows could finally be put to bed; four decades for someone like my father.

The word “never” no longer applied. The Caps had their first. And the long suffering like me don’t have to suffer anymore.

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