So, I've been writing about the Thing since 2008, wishing for it, wanting it, hoping against hope, only to be disappointed every year.
The Thing, you see, is the Stanley Cup, hockey's Holy Grail. I've been a hockey fan since 2004, when my sister took me to a game and I was instantly hooked. Joe and I became season ticket holders in 2008, and didn't give them up until we moved up here to enemy territory Flyers country Philadelphia.
We could never seem to get past the second round of the playoffs. The last two years were particularly painful - the Caps won the President's Trophy both years. This prize is awarded to the team with the best regular season record. The team those years was full of great players in their prime. With Alex Ovechkin as the captain, how could we lose?
And yet, we did, to the Pittsburgh Penguins, both times in the second round. We hadn't beaten them in the playoffs since 1994.
Then there was this year. We'd lost several key players, replacing them with young men who did not have much, if any, NHL experience and a couple of veterans whose previous teams did not want them.
Not one analyst picked the Capitals to get out of the first round of the playoffs; some did not even pick them to win their division. There were very bright spots during the season, to be sure, and then we clinched the division.
A little, tiny, seed of hope planted itself in my heart.
We drew the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round. We lost the first two games at home. And I'm willing to bet that every last Capitals fan thought, "Here we go again." And yet, the seed took root. We evened up the series, then pulled ahead, and then won the series in Game 6.
Oh my God, we get the Penguins in Round 2. Again. The seed was watered with worry and fed with dread. They won; we won. We won; They won. We won. We brought a 3-2 series lead into Game 6; could we perhaps possibly actually win the series?? The game was unbelievably nerve-wracking. And then, Overtime:
Joe and I leapt around the living room, screaming like Banshees. We made it out of the second round! BY BEATING THE PENGUINS! The seed burst into life, a strong, green shoot.
A little thought took hold in my head: We are going all the way. I shooed it away, afraid of it. It kept sneaking back.
So. Now we were playing the Tampa Bay Lightning for the Eastern Conference championship. The Lightning, who many pundits picked to win it all. The Lightning, who swept us in 2011.
We won the first two games. Oh my God! Then the Lightning won the next three games. Oh no! Game 6 - the team stepped on to the ice and trounced the Lightning, 3-0. Series tied! Then, Game 7, in Tampa.
And we won it, by a mile, 4-0! The Caps were the Eastern Conference champions! The plant grew stronger and buds formed under its leaves. The thought came back, stronger. Still I tried to tamp it down, afraid to hope. The hockey writers and commentators and pundits started talking about how the Capitals might win it all. I worried about jinxes.
One more milestone achieved; one more - the biggest - to go.
We were facing the Las Vegas Golden Knights, a team that didn't even exist last year. A team that had run roughshod through the playoffs to become the Western Conference champions. A Cinderella team, a team of destiny, a team that had lifted the city up after a mass murder. You know what? If any other team had been playing them, I'd have rooted for the Knights.
Vegas, as you might expect, puts on a great pre-game show, with a Golden Knight on skates slaying the black-clad Capital. And they did slay us in Game 1, 6-4.
And then, we won Game 2. And then, we won Game 3. And then, we won Game 4.
Game 5. Could we? Would we? We fell behind at the end of the second period, 3-2. I kept repeating, "It's okay. It's okay. It's okay. It's only Game 5. We can lose it and still win the series."
But. With 10 minutes left, Devante Smith-Pelly tied the game.
YAHHHHHHHH! At that point, the plant burst into glorious bloom. At that point, I believed. I chucked out all of my doubt, all of my hesitation, and went all in. We were going to keep our foot on the snake and not let it get away. We were going to win.
Three minutes later, Lars Eller justified my belief.
At long last, at long, long last, for the first time in franchise history, the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup.