WASHINGTON D.C — A red light flashed over the crowd at the “Wolftrap Center for Performing Arts” in Vienna, VA, a little town 15 miles west of Washington, DC. “A Let’s Go Caps” chant broke out after concertgoers learned of Jakub Vrana’s opening goal in Game 5. An intoxicated, mid-20’s man smashed a Bud Light can against his head and screamed an expletive about the city of Pittsburgh.
It was a perfect beginning for concert headliners, Fitz and the Tantrums.
In a city where events and activities are endless, “ALL CAPS” and the excitement that followed was everywhere.
“My daughter wanted to kill me,” Melanie of Springfield, Va., told Pittsburgh Hockey Now. “I bought these tickets months ago, I had no idea (the Capitals) would be playing this far.”
Many Washington, D.C., residents didn’t, including those at The Wolftrap. Seemingly, half of the venue was watching the series-clinching Game 5 on mobile devices. Moments after the Vrana goal, much of the crowd fell silent but then blazed again after Alex Ovechkin’s power-play goal.
“It was a little funny. Casual fans didn’t even need to check the score. It was so obvious.” Shawn of Alexandria, Va., said. “Literally half of the crowd had the game on their phones.”
Downtown D.C. had a similar vibe. Streets in front of Capital One Arena were seas of red and erupted at triple zeros.
“I’ve waited my entire life for this,” Corey of Fairfax, Va., said as he took a swig of Yuengling. “This is our second championship in a month,” he added, alluding to the second-round victory over the Penguins.
Corey brought up an interesting point: The Round 2 win over the Penguins was for many the Capitals’ defining moment.
“I thought I was right last week,” Chad, of Alexandria, Va., said. “I was. I was happier when we beat Pittsburgh than when we won (last night). At least of the people I know, they feel the same way”.
It isn’t a unanimous feeling, but the younger generation of Capitals fans seem to have a similar notion. Much of the fan base had more jubilation after Round 2 than against their longtime Southeastern Conference rival, Tampa Bay Lightning.
“When Kuzy scored the OT winner against Pittsburgh, it was done.” Max, of Fairfax County, said. “I was like, ‘Plan the parade now.’”
Not all Capitals fans have that feeling, much of those who have not only waited their entire lives for this moment, but the entire life of their beloved organization.
“I’ve waited my entire life for this.” Melanie said. “I’m 44, I was born the same year they were. Any win ever isn’t even close to what this one (will) be tonight.”
Max added a similar story. He was at Game 4 in 1998 at as a 1-year old when the Detroit Red Wings completed the sweep of the Capitals in their first Stanley Cup Final visit. “And here I am 20 years later. Crying.”
Among all Capitals fans, maybe the happiest was 90-year old Grace Cohen of Alexandria, Va. Cohen, raised in Honolulu, Hawaii, did not “know a hockey puck from a surfboard” before the Capitals’ inception as she told The Washington Post.
Grace and her late husband, Jay, owned season tickets since the beginning of the Capitals. She has attended hundreds, if not thousands, of games since her hockey addiction began after the third game she attended.
Moments after the Capitals swarmed goaltender Braden Holtby, all emotions and behaviors were on tap. Jubilation, drunken obnoxity and outright relief. It was an atmosphere which paralleled the most recent broken championship droughts in Cleveland and Houston.
D.C. sports fans have suffered for 26 years since the city’s last championship, a Redskins Super Bowl victory, but the happiness has just begun. One day later, the city is elated, yet, respectful. Nothing to rebuild or ashes from couches of yore to be removed. Just a ton of smiles and jerseys despite the humidity and heat.