So I decided to go to only my second ever Stanley Cup playoff game in my entire life last night. My first one was back in 1998. It was Game 2 of Washington’s first round series against a Boston team that was still home to Ray Bourque and some 18-year old rookie named Joe Thornton. The Bruins won that game 4-3 in double overtime and ended well passed my 11-year old self’s bedtime. Fortunately, that game was on a Friday night so I could make an excuse for staying up so late.
This game was on a Sunday: a day in which the Metro and their eternal ignorance closed at 11 pm and forcing any non-DC natives to find expensive ride sharing modes to get back home. This person didn’t make it back to his apartment until 1:30 am! Some have argued that Ted Leonsis should have done something about that. I beg to differ.
Anywho, the other reason why I wanted to go was not so much that I had high hopes for last night. It was simply the fact that I took advantage of a ticket that cost $67 resale! If I wanted to, I also could have gotten Game 1 tickets for as low as $29! Those are meaningless regular season game prices being bandied about in the open market during the playoffs. With all due respect, I find it horrifyingly difficult if that is not the symbol of how little this city has hope for this Washington Capitals team anymore.
You could feel the city losing interest by the season, regardless if a new head coach is in town hoping to bring fresh ideas and attitude changes, or if a shiny new acquisition can play with us to save this franchises soul from permanent misery. Simply put, the Montreal series of 2010 will go down as one of the most unforgivable things to happen to the city’s sporting culture. The 2017 Penguins series, full of cheats and opposing fans that want to steal your monuments and be proud doing it, is not that far behind. To say that a generation of fans in this area is poisoned to the core is one of the great understatements in American sports. I’m sorry, but I refuse to argue that Philadelphia fans had it worse. Who woulda thunk that in that one playoff game I witnessed before was the last professional sports team I ever supported play in a Conference championship game, let alone a league championship game.
Fast forward to last night’s Caps-Jackets game and you wouldn’t have thought that the fans inside had all that misery built inside of them. I experienced so much noise, enthusiasm, and stereotypical “Barstool Sports” level bro enthusiasm that I haven’t felt in almost a decade: right at the absolute peak of the Ovechkin era. Every shot mattered. Every entry mattered. Every reaction to a correct or failed officiating decision was verbally violent. Crowds rose from their seats in ways where they refused to give a hoot if the ushers ever bothered to dare ask them to sit down. It was simply brilliant and all that you could ever ask from a home playoff crowd.
Then, the second period happened. After a brilliant first period that leads to a 2-1 Capitals lead and a 20-12 shot attempt advantage, Columbus responded back with the exact same skill and talent that they showed in Game 1. Once again, Washington’s penalty kill was a disgrace, even with Jay Beagle returning to the lineup. To top it all off, Phillip Grubauer had to be benched for Braden Holtby to start the third period. The crowd roared as if they forgotten that they were making such a ruckus an hour ago when his name was announced by PA announcer Wes Johnson. Still, men, women, and children were leaving their seats, especially the traumatized ones. You can’t blame them at all. The third period started with a 90% capacity crowd at best.
Washington responded brilliantly but not because of Holtby’s heroics. They out-attempted the snot out of Columbus 20-7 and got another of what would be three power-play goals on the night, this one from T.J. Oshie, to tie it up at 4 with less than four minutes left. Then. Overtime.
Overtime hockey might as well be a life-sucking moment in every human being’s life. If it goes longer than five minutes, it makes every player’s decision magnify to such a level that only the mentally strongest can handle it well every single time. Even the best fail in overtime. That means you too, Pittsburgh! Washington just so happens to fail a little bit more. They did last Thursday. Surely enough, they did last night too.
Whether it was because of the metro or not, the crowd dwindled to about 70% capacity at the start of extra time, but those that remained still shouted with as much enthusiasm as the start of the game. And it’s not like the Caps responded without a good effort to win it. But instead of scoring, they either whiffed on one-timers, shot it square on Columbus netminder Sergei Bobrovsky, or made a bad pass too much. By game’s end, it was 58-29 in total shots on goal and 66-40 at even strength shot attempts. You could not have asked for a better performance from the home team. Bobrovsky just decided not to give up any rebounds. Washington’s defense has now given up four goals to one of the worst power plays in the league. Jay Beagle and Devante Smith-Pelly, two of Washington’s worst forwards on the team, are the only goal scorers at even strength this series. Andrei Burakovsky may miss the rest of the season if the Caps get swept and Trotz was forced to play with 11 forwards: none of them being Jakub Vrana of course.
So once the game ended, either there were those that left in sorrow, but most just had that disbelieving smile, wondering when this pain would stop. For me, I chilled out after an hour before stressing when and how much my Uber ride would be. You just build an immunity for such moments now. In DC, you just can’t let your guard down for one second anymore. Only a championship, and maybe a better President and group of politicians, can ever make our city proud again.