There’s a new mask in Washington. Finally. Wear it, laugh behind it and prank with it until they pry it from your cold, dead, playoff-eliminated hands.
It’s not time for a parade, not by a long shot. But finally Washington fans can break out a smile, even a huge giddy grin if we like, one that will remain for days, weeks and probably for months.
They don’t give out the Stanley Cup for a first-round upset in the National Hockey League playoffs. Beleaguered owner Daniel Snyder didn’t just sell the Redskins. The Nationals still have 144 opportunities to make us forget a 14-4 start. And a five-game winning streak by the Wizards is like finding an empty canteen in the Gobi desert.
But for now, make way and give us some elbow room. For the moment, the Capitals are hailed as big-game players, Robert Griffin III is arriving any nanosecond and the Nationals have the second-best record in baseball. And Washington is a normal sports town — a theater with more than one mask.
When your city’s National Football League, NHL, National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball teams have been cruel punch lines for most of the last (rounding off), 20, 30, 30 and 80 years respectively, you’re entitled to celebrate solid good news that intimates the possibility of long-term change. It may not all pan out. But some of it will. (Even D.C. United, which hasn’t made Major League Soccer’s playoffs since 2007, appears to be shaking off its doldrums, currently in second place in the Eastern Conference. )
After being the undisputed No. 1 choking dogs of U.S. sport for decades, the Washington Capitals just beat the reigning Stanley Cup champion Bruins in overtime in Game 7 Wednesday night in Boston. “Defend” that!
Sure, there’s less pressure as underdogs and no boos from a home crowd. Forget that. What you’ll remember is the stunned, delicious moment when you saw the Caps dancing on their skate tips and you thought, “They actually did it! Or will they review the goal? Something’s still going to go wrong. They’re the Caps. No, it’s going to stand? It’s over!”
And you can’t help but hope that what is “over” is not just this series but also a tradition of frustration so noxious that no franchise deserves it.
The NHL playoffs are so exciting because they are so capriciously unfair. Every sport has key postseason plays that turn, in part, on luck; but nothing like the NHL. That’s the league best and worst inherent feature. Almost every year, some talented but underachieving team fires its coach, gets healthy and adjusts to a new system as the playoffs approach, stumbles onto a “hot goalie,” enjoys its underdog role and goes to the Stanley Cup finals.