The Champs Are Here

Hercules Johnson

Washington, D.C — The Washington Nationals won the World Series a year ago and Washington, D.C. was on a heady high. The District of Champions! What a time to be alive in the Capital.

I missed the celebration when the Capitals won the Stanley Cup. In 2018 we lived across the country while I attended law school in San Diego. We still had a great time. My brother drove down from Reno to watch games 5-7; the night he arrived we watched Ovechkin hoist the Cup and we stayed classy in the streets of San Diego.

In the fall of 2019, however, my wife and are were living in Northeast D.C., off the Red Line near the Brookland exit by the Basilica. It was gorgeous and it was good to be home. The tail end of October brought the Capital’s first World Series appearance in the better part of a century.

D.C. was starving for a championship, going without for 27 years since the Redskins won Super Bowl XXVI in 1991. But to make matters worse, until 15 short months ago, when Evgeny Kuznetsov robbed Sydney Crosby and sent the Penguins packing, the Capital City had not even been to a Conference final since 1999. That year the Caps made it to the Stanley Cup Finals and were unceremoniously swept by the Red Wings. So even the one time the district was close, we really only got a sniff.

I am not the fan who tends to get despondent after a defeat, even in the playoffs, but there were so many, and soo many were too bad. After decades of heartbreak the playoffs became almost reviled, offering far more despair than satisfaction.     

Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals put the kibosh on all that. They proved it was okay to believe and there was a new feeling around town. Then, in 2019, the WNBA’s Mystics brought the District another championship mere weeks before the Nats faced the Astros. Not to say that Washingtonians were strutting around like cocky Massholes, we just weren’t flinching at every play.

The Nationals were on the road for the first two games where things would kick off in Texas. The Astros may have been hosting Games 1 & 2 in Houston, but Washington D.C. was alive. The vibe wasn’t overconfidence, but the District was ready.

Neighborhoods were bustling despite the games being played out of town. Bars and restaurants were overflowing and rowdy on Capitol Hill and in Adams Morgan, in Columbia Heights and all around the Golden Triangle. The waterfront area around Nationals Park was electric.

Nationals Park hosted viewing parties for the away games, inviting 20-30,000 fans to watch the game on the big outfield screens. Beer vendors and Ben’s Chili Bowl completed the experience.

We didn’t make it out to the first two games but the underdog Nats won both. Houston sent up two of the best pitchers in the league and the Nats banged up studs sent both of them home losers. So we knew we’d have at least one more chance.

The games in D.C. did not go well. The Astros won all three and the Nats scored exactly one run in each. Expectations were a little tempered for Game 6, but we had tickets and we were pumped.

We took the Metro down to the park, red line to the green line to the Navy Yard. We made a popular choice. The Metro dropped us off about a block from the gates as we poured out with the crowd. All along the block, street vendors were hawking there t-shirts for half-off: down 3-2, the Nats could be eliminated by the time we saw these guys again. We should have bought stuff then.

We met a few friends inside, grabbed some half-smokes from Ben’s and found seats along the third-base line. The first half of the game was a little slow, the Nats were down 2-1 after one and nobody did a lot for the next few innings. The Nats took over around the halfway mark and the fans in attendance watched their teams put up two runs in the 5th, 7th, and 9th.

It was a great comeback and, even without a game on site, was an amazing environment to enjoy overpriced drinks and chowing down on a legendary chili god. The crowd was and engaged from the start and by the end of the game, you would have been forgiven for thinking it was played at home.

The streets were loud and full of song as the fans danced out of the stadium. The vendors t-shirts had more than doubled in price. Game 6 was awesome, an exciting win to be sure, but tomorrow was Game 7.

We weren’t expecting to attend the viewing party for Game 7.  I was supposed to work until nearly 9:00 p.m. that evening, so we didn’t bother securing tickets. Yet, as fate would have it, I was out of work shortly after the first pitch.

I called my wife and we discussed the new situation as I raced to the Metro. Tickets to the game were sold out and it was raining, so it didn’t make a lot of sense to go down there, but it was still early and they were only down 2-0.  We decided it would be irresponsible not to at least try to get in. Even if we failed, we could try to find a spot at a nearby bar and be a part of the aftermath. It was Game 7.

We drove to the Rhode Island Metro station, caught the Red Line, switched to the Green, and pulled in to the stop at the Navy Yard on a train peppered with fans rocking the red. The seventh inning was under way, Nats still down by two, but nobody we came across was feeling down. After all, the Caps had exorcised the demons.

We were still decelerating to enter the station when an Anthony Rendon Home Run got put the Nats on the board. The train broke out into applause. A few seconds later we all leapt out of the car, as soon as the doors slid open, and raced to the escalators and beyond. 

We quickly regretted not bringing umbrellas as the rain had picked up substantially.  We figured that only helped our chances of getting in, since the people we saw walking away from the park surely meant empty seats inside. The gentleman at the ticket gate would surely be moved by this turn of events.

Moments later we were past the metal detectors and approaching ticketing. I began to silently practice my sales pitch for why the lady, who would be expecting a pair of tickets, should let us in without a one.

“Hello ma’am,” I would greet her. “My wife and I weren’t able to get tickets to the game, because they sold out so early. We weren’t expecting to get in, but it’s raining and we saw people walking out. Is there any way you could let us in? We would be so grateful.” That could work, right?

Suffice it to say that I was taken aback when I heard the very same pitch come out of the mouth of the man in front of us. He was so polite and friendly, I was sure he would get in instead of us. Mercilessly, the ticket lady shot him down.

Resolutely she explained to him that her boss had covered this situation and specifically said that it was out of the question. If the man wanted to hear “no” from her boss as well, he was welcome to hang for a few. I pulled my wife away from the gate quickly to discuss Plan B. There was no Plan B so we frantically scoped our options.

This late in the game, the open ticket lines were few, and we already knew their position on the matter. I spent a lot of time going to and working concerts and festivals, so I had some experience trying to get places without tickets. I believed we had one reasonable chance for success so I took my wife’s hand and led her towards the exit gate. It was time for some quick thinking!

There were two security guards at the exit gate, a tall black man and a shorter, older white lady. I figured if I was going to have a chance, I would need to connect with one of then quickly. I made a beeline for the big dude.

The two guards were talking to separate couples as we approached, but it looked like the couple my dude was talking to might be about to dip. Instead, they and he wandered off together.

As the one couple and their security escort preceded into the distance, I turned back to face the older lady, but she was still deep in conservation with the other couple, and did not seem to have noticed us. It would require a smooth confidence, but the moment was there for the taking.

Fortune favors the bold, so I glanced a “play along look” towards my wife and I spun around on the spot, catching the attention of the security Guard as I sell the bit.

‘Well shit babe, they just hit another Home Run, should we just go back in?” I directed, as the security guard turned towards us.

“Yes please,” she said confidently.

“Is that fine ma’am?” I asked the guard again, as I instinctively, slowly backpedled towards the bleachers.  But my caution was unnecessary, she was sold and waned us on the through

We walked in to the park while the crowd was still cheering for Howie Kendrick’s 2-run bomb, which scored young phenom Juan Soto and took the lead. With the seventh inning stretch on the way, we made bee lines for hot dogs and alcohol.

It was a struggle, but our inside knowledge from years of event bartending helped us land a few drinks before sales were cut off. We ate our dogs under the cover of the bleachers with the hundreds of fans hiding staying dry. Then we made our way out, to some open seats a few rows behind the visitor’s dugout to join the tens of thousands of fans in the rain.

The mood was elevating and the crowd was roiling. Some wore ponchos, some used programs or t-shirts to block the downpour, but most of us just let the rain fall.

It was still dramatic until the top of the 9th. Corbin sat down six of seven batters and Soto added an insurance run in the 8th. The pressure valve blew off in the 9th when Eaton added two RBIs to put the game out of reach. Nats Park exploded.

The final five outs breezed by to the tune of songs, chants, and cheers. One large fellow splashed and slid across the dugout like it was a slip and slide.

The last two Astros struck out swinging, and when the final pitch landed in the glove, it was pandemonium. No one left quickly, there was ambience to absorb, jerseys to waive and admire, and hands to high-five. My wife sparkled with joy; she must have taken celebratory pictures for half a dozen groups groups in our section. 

We eventually made our way out of the park and into the streets where revelry was well underway. People were dancing in and out of bars, climbing on poles, and screaming at the top of their lungs. It was a beautiful outpouring of joy and incredible to be a part of.

My wife and I decided we had not had enough, so we stopped at Gallery Place on the way home for some more. We headed straight to Fado’s Irish Pub for a Jameson and a Black and Tan, just like after a Caps game. We walked in to a serenade of “We Are the Champions,” and sang along at least four more times before we caught an Uber home.

It’s a Parade!!

A few days later we were back on the Metro, heading downtown for a parade. Constitution and Pennsylvania Avenues were full of adoring throngs rallying around the streets. There was plenty of space to make our way around until we neared the parade route itself.

We struggled through the mass of humanity until we found a space close enough to maintain a view. Even there it seemed imperfect for my 5’2″ wife; I hope I was helpful. We saw the team and the trophy, we waved and yelled, and we heard some speeches. The happiness around the mall was palpable that day. Good times.

The dirty secret is, my wife and I aren’t even actually Nats fans, but this whole thing has been intoxicating. We are huge Caps fans. We rock the red so hard it has been called, “incessant” and “annoying.” I am also a longtime Redski Washington Football Team Fan who grew up on Art Monk, Gary Clark, and Doug Williams long before Clinton Portis, Sean Taylor, and Tress Way. But when it comes to baseball, we’re both Braves fans through and through.

I grew up in Richmond, a couple hours south of D.C., but I was an avid baseball fan before 2005. When I was a kid, Richmond was the home of Atlanta’s Triple-A team, the Richmond Braves. I grew up attending Braves games with my family and in the 90s I played little league baseball with a glove signed by Steve Avery. I remember watching Sid Bream burn rubber and I remember David Justice smashing the World Series winning home run.

My wife shared a love of baseball with her father, growing up in South Florida. Before expansion the team of the South played in Atlanta and you could watch most of their games on TBS. Despite our love for the District and D.C. sports, when it came to baseball we were covered.

We thought it would be insincere and bandwagony to appropriate Nationals fans’ claim to this experience, but it was impossible not to root for the city and for our fellow Capitals and Redsk Washington Football fans. Instead of buying Nats gear, we wore Capitals hats, and jerseys or RMNB t-shirts to both games. Our choice again proved very popular; the Cup winning Caps garnered endless praise and daps.

A year after missing out on attending championship games and parties for the Caps, we were thrilled to be a part of the Nats big week. It was an experience that more than lived up to its billing. The District of Champions. A good place to be.

Capitals Face Yet Another Game 7 After Slow Starts and Flawed Finishes

The New York Rangers brought ferocity early and the Capitals could not fight their way out of the hole in which they found themselves after the first 20 minutes of Sunday’s Game 6.

Chris Kreider put NY on the board in a flash as he rushed to the net and put a surprising puck past a sleepy Braden Holtby in the first minute. Just over 19 minutes later, after numerous chances by both teams failed to beat this postseasons’ two best net-minders, Kreider made it 2-0.

With just over three seconds remaining in the first period, after an amazing series of PK face-off wins, short-handed pressure, and even earning a power play for the Boys in Red, Troy Brauwer earned a spell in time-out for himself. Three seconds later, shortly after a Rangers face off win, one of the eight successful offensive zone face-offs the Rangers secured in their first nine attempts, and directly after Braden Holtby stopped the ensuing shot, John Carlson accidently kicked the unsecured puck through the legs of his goaltender, where Kreider converted the easy layup with 00.3 seconds remaining on the clock.

The Capitals came out for the second period undaunted and cut the deficit in half just over thirty seconds in when Jason “New York” Chimera crashed the net and slapped a rebound past King Henrik.

Over the next 25 minutes the Capitals out attempted the Rangers by about twenty, but nonetheless found themselves down three goals after Dan Boyle made it 4-1 when he put a long shot past a Braden Holtby.

Washington’s net minder did not stand a chance as his view was completely obscured by a screen from teammate Jay Beagle, who did such a good job of  camouflaging the shot that it was hard not be reminded of Joel Ward’s legendary behind, just on the wrong end of the ice.

Though the game appeared to have become a laugher, the Washington Capitals did not cower or surrender to the President’s Trophy winning Rangers, they continued to pile on the pressure.

Kuzy brings Caps within 2

Kuzy brings Caps within 2

Three minutes after Boyle scored his second of the series, Evgeny Kuznetsov matched the feet, bringing the Capitals within two goals with shot on Lunkqvist’s short side, the beneficiary of a Joel Ward forced turnover. Another three minutes later Joel Ward crashed the crease and deposited a Jason Chimera rebound into the Ranger’s net, pulling the home team within a goal with nine and a half minutes to play.

The remainder of the game was filled with great sound and fury, Washington out attempted the boys from the Big Apple 35-9 over the final frame and held them without a shot on goal after the Boyle marker. Wave after wave the Capitals sent raging into the offensive zone, stymied as the King offered up save after save, until finally, with two and a half minutes left, a bad call actually went the Caps way, as the refs incorrectly found the Rangers guilty of delaying the game, giving the NHL’s best regular season power play a chance to find the equalizer.

But it was all for naught. As has been the case all postseason, Washington’s power play squad was inept, unable to get pucks to the net, even after pulling Holtby and going up 6 men to 4. It has become clear that John Carlson cannot get the puck to Ovechkin in a position to put dangerous shots on goal, and without the most dangerous scoring threat in the league, the unit looks confused and indecisive.

The power play failed and the 6 on 5 squad fared no better, the clock struck twelve and the Capitals’ 3-1 series lead turned into a pumpkin. Game 7 has been announced for Wednesday afternoon. It will be the third Game 7 for these two teams in the last four years, and the fourth since the 2009 playoffs, the Caps are 1-2 in those match-ups. Washington defeated the Rangers in 5 games in the spring of 2011.

Caps Fans Can be a Sensitive Lot, Time to Think Brave Thoughts

The Capitals have a chance to do something special today, they have a chance to take this series by the throat, with their screaming faithful there to root them on.

They will be back in the friendly confines of the Verizon Center, in an even series, holding home ice advantage. They are yet to play a complete game and have not gotten their offense or their power play going. And here they are, tied and ready to drop the puck in front of their own fans. If they can finally come out with urgency, and put a few goals on the board, they have a chance to push the New York Islanders to the brink.

I have rarely written about the Boys in Red because I am weary of writing like a homer and to be certain, there have been glaring weaknesses and there are obvious possibilities for things to go wrong.

The Islanders have come out stronger every game so far, attacking with energy and speed that Washington has not yet been able to match early. In the last game, one in which we scored first and won, Holtby still had to stop five shots in the first five minutes, and watching it felt worse than that.

They race to kill icing calls when we should have the angle, they fight harder for 50/50 pucks with a desperation we have not seemed to possess, they have made clearing the defensive zone a helacious endeavor and they have applied more pressure more often to start each contest.

Can we match that speed and intensity? Can we bring the desperation to match their hustle without giving up risky chances the other way, it’s not like we’ve done a stellar job of preventing their opportunities off the rush as is.

But Capitals fans know all that. I know that I can envision things going to crap as they have in the past, I think most Caps fans have every bit the cynicism and fear of a terrible reality to balance any optimistic hopes. Capital’s fans are well aware of the ways this could all end poorly, but this could be different and yesterday’s defeats do not dictate today’s outcome any more than hopeful star gazing. Some of us need to remember that one day things can end differently, as they do for only 1 of 30 NHL teams every year.

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Washington Capitals Need to Clean Up Their Play or it’s Game Over For D.C.


The Boys from Chinatown have played a lot of poor hockey so far this postseason, and there’s plenty of blame to go around.
The New York Islanders came out Sunday morning with the same kind of fire the Capitals used to even the series on Friday, and they left the ice with similar results.
This is not unusual in strong playoff match ups, and fans rocking the red will be well accustomed to these nauseating roller coasters after no less than three straight seven game entanglements as their immediate playoff history. Game after game sees the previous tilt’s loser hit the ice with focus and desperation their opponent just cannot match.
The Caps certainly could not meet the intensity of the rebounding Islanders Sunday morning, instead they were complacent, as if waiting for the match to slow down and become manageable.
But manage it they did, finishing the second period down only a goal, no larger a deficit than that which stood before them with 20 minutes remaining in Game 2.

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