On Wednesday night, the Washington Capitals did something no one expected them to do: They made the Stanley Cup finals. Fans had reason to be skeptical. The team hasn’t been in the finals since 1998, when they were quickly dispatched of by the Detroit Red Wings in 4. This year, the Caps came roaring out of the gate in the Eastern Conference Finals, taking a 2-0 lead against the Tampa Bay Lightning. But then Tampa Bay won the third game. And then the fourth and the fifth. And suddenly they were up 2-3. When the Caps won the 6th game, a few fans grumbled that they were merely delaying the inevitable.
Well, guess what? The Caps won Game 7, catapulting them into the Stanley Cup Finals against the Vegas Golden Knights, which is apparently a real team in the NHL, I checked.
All of this creates something of a dilemma for local hockey fans: Who do we root for in the Stanley Cup Finals? On the one hand, it’s not like Baltimore has an NHL team of our own and the Caps are the closest thing we’ve got. Also, as my sister Felicia (a D.C. resident) pointed out, D.C. folks rooted for the Orioles until they got their own baseball team. (True!)
On the other hand, the Caps are from D.C.! And D.C. is definitely not Baltimore. In fact, we spend a lot of time trying to get out from D.C.’s shadow, and remind the rest of the country that we have our own thing going here.
Also, who could forget THIS? (Yeah, like D.C. doesn't have a rat problem.)
Anyway, to get a sense of city’s temperature regarding the long-suffering Caps finally making it back to the finals, I posted the following question on my Facebook page: “Baltimorons: Are you rooting for the Capitals in the Stanley Cup Finals?”
I told folks I might use their answers for this story, so I’m not violating some friend code here.
Anyway, at first the answers were largely pro-Capitals and positive.
“Um. Yes,” wrote my pal (and sports broadcaster extraordinaire) Nestor Aparicio. Succinct and to the point.
“Being a fan for the past 11 years, thanks to my wife, YES! I have never been as nervous as I was last night, and it still doesn't feel real,” said my friend Matt Ball.
“Unless the Skipjacks are playing, I'm pulling for the Caps. I've been un-conflicted for 25 years,” said occasional Baltimore magazine contributor Jim Meyer.
There were a few more comments like this. One friend noted that the great Capitals winger Alexander Ovechkin deserved his Stanley Cup, for sentimental reasons if nothing else. Richard Gorelick (also an occasional Baltimore writer) said that the Caps making the finals made lots of his friends happy, so it made him happy.
But then a few dissenting voices began to creep in:
“I was raised to hate all things D.C. and it shall continue. A true Baltimoron will never jump on that bandwagon. Bring back the Bullets!” wrote my friend, and Baltimore native, Brook Yeaton.
“Baltimore fans rooting for the Caps sickens me, frankly,” said Evan Serpick, a former editor here and at City Paper. “When I was growing up, we rooted for two football teams every week: the Colts and whoever the Redskins were playing. In the years between, the Colts and the Ravens, hating the Redskins was our only connection to pro football. And we watched the Baltimore Skipjacks (of blessed memory). And we liked it.”
But it was perhaps Jim Burger, a local writer, photographer, and martini enthusiast who put it best: “I have often said that the beauty of the National Hockey League is that any team can win the Stanley Cup . . . except the Washington Capitals,” he cracked. “It's like some kind of rule I think. But I'm pulling for them, and I hope to be finally proven wrong. God knows some team around here should win something.”
If by some chance you are rooting for the Caps, we’ve got a list of where you can watch the game with fellow fans here.