Caps to give up Stanley Cup, but keep everlasting memories

Alex Ovechkin hoists the Stanley Cup for the Washington Capitals on June 7, 2018.

COLUMN

It is finally official. Washington Capitals fans now know the date they must give their prized possession back.

In less than 48 hours, Lord Stanley will have a new champion, and we will not see anyone diving into D.C. fountains this year. But, that is ok.

As the Stanley Cup will find a new home for at least one year, up again in Boston or in another new town in St. Louis, Capitals fans may have a slight smile as they say goodbye.

We may have to give the Cup back, but the memories June 7, the 2018 postseason run, and the last year are memories the Cup will leave us with forever.

Some fans and fan bases are still longing to experience the feelings many Caps fans struggle putting into words.

The Stanley Cup Title brought together a loyal, yet struggling fanbase, who has been through years of agony and disappointment. Fans who enjoyed President’s Trophies, but no conference finals. Fans who dealt with the team battling back in series to be embarrassed in game sevens. It does not make sense.

No matter where you were for the game five Stanley Cup winning game, the entire fanbase all share the same story, even though all of us took different paths to get there.

It was all our firsts. Whether we have been a fan for many years, have a parent who has been a life-long fan, a season ticket holder, or a die-hard fan for any other reason, we all cried. We all celebrated. We all looked around at the people we were watching the game with and could not believe it no matter how many times we heard John Walton say it was ok.

In that moment, everything else went away. Arguably so, whenever we tell our personal stories of what lead up to the winning game, those same feelings will still be remembered.

When we were down 0-2 to Columbus in the opening round and things were again falling apart for us, I remember sitting on my bed saying, “I do not want to win this overtime game if we do not win the Stanley Cup. I just can not keep going through this. Seriously, just end it or give me a sign.”

Ten seconds later, Lars Eller scored. I laughed. I had thrown all superstitions away for this postseason run because they clearly had not worked before. But I half smirked and half chuckled, should I actually take this as a sign?

Fast forward to game six of Columbus, we would not actually sweep after looking so lifeless at the beginning of the series would we? We would.

Pittsburgh, the worst sounding city if I have ever heard one.

If any Caps fan told you they felt comfortable at any point of the series before Evgeny Kuznetsov’s OT bird celebration in game six, I fail to see them as a die-hard Caps fan.

After Nicklas Backstrom scored the game-winner in game three of the series with just over one minute to play from Alex Ovechkin is when I believed that me asking for a sign in Columbus might have meant something.

I saw new life in the team that did not take the game to OT. It was the difference maker of the series.

As soon as Mike Emrick said a team was one strike away from forcing a game seven or going to the conference final against Tampa Bay in game six, the Penguins turnover, and Ovechkin’s pass to Kuznetsov went in slow motion. Once he poked it under Matt Murray and Emrick said it was over I said, “No it did not.”

That is all I kept saying as my family jumped around the house screaming and crying as if we won the Cup right then and there. To Caps fans, we got over the century’s biggest hurdle, so it felt like we did, for a few weeks anyway. Maybe it was okay to believe.

We made a statement in Tampa Bay, taking the first two games, but dropping three straight did not match what the Caps had been doing in the postseason.

I thought back to the fire from the Penguins series and that superstition from Columbus. I knew we would win game six, but game seven was the most scared I have ever been.

Ovechkin’s goal 1:02 into the game on the road told me we were not going to lose this game. Andre Burakovsky made me feel better when he made it 3-0 with a pair of goals, but once we were up three, I did believe. We were heading to the Stanley Cup final, and it was the best feeling I have ever had.

Anyone could bark about the officiating in game one against Las Vegas, but the true testament of hockey Gods being on our side was “The Save” in game two. If that game went to OT and we went down 0-2, the Golden Knights were too good to give the Columbus result.

“The Save” was the turning point. Las Vegas only scored three goals across the next two games after averaging four per game in the opening games.

After the Caps went up 3-1 in the series after a four-goal victory in game four, many Caps fans were not prepared for June 7. Were we winning four straight for a second time in this postseason? No way. Besides, the win had to come at home right?

After 15 wins, one little idea popped back into my head, and it was what I said in Columbus.

It took about halfway through the game and many post banks before Jakub Vrana opened the game’s scoring. Everyone will remember how all hell broke loose after that in a back and forth battle.

Las Vegas answered just minutes later, before Ovechkin took the reigns and scored from his spot on the power play. He is the captain, and this was his night.

But minutes later, it was all tied up again, and Caps fans felt their heart sink when the Golden Knights took the lead with less than 30 seconds remaining in the frame. We still had one period to play, but this was coming back to Washington, right? We do not get a fairy tale ending.

Devante Smith-Pelly said to hell we do! His acrobatic tying goal and seventh of the postseason gave him as many goals in the postseason as he had in the regular season. Knock, knock. The sign was real. What was the cherry on top to prove it? Eller scores the Stanley Cup game-winning goal, and for the first time my personal Stanley Cup story was revealed.

“I CALLED IT! I CALLED IT!” I yelled at my puzzled family, who then needed an explanation. All my dad said when I was done was, “we still have seven minutes.” But I did not care because I knew.

As Las Vegas pulled their goalie, I watched my dad put down his Caps beer glass (a rare sight), and with under one minute, his hands rested on his cheeks. With six seconds left at the stoppage of play, my dad began crying. After 44 years and many years of season tickets later, he won. Watching his emotion was almost as good as the Caps winning. Almost.

It is the descriptions of moments like these that make giving the Stanley Cup back manageable. It is the stories you will tell your grandkids, the fun times you shared with loved ones and friends that can be revisited at any time. A piece of hardware does not come close to the importance of the stories and the feelings you cannot fully describe.

So whether Boston or St. Louis gets to take Lord Stanley and share where they were when it happened after the fact, they will never take each and every person’s personal memories that are worth more than anything else to any Caps fan.

We will have a different conversation when the Stanley Cup sits in Washington again, but until then, letting go is not really letting go. But that is ok.

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