“Like I just got off the Rebel Yell at Kings Dominion,” Tom Coleman offered.
“I need a diaper,” said Chris Donovan of Reston.
“It feels like you’re walking up to the altar,” said Jim Gorlinsky of Fairfax. “And you’re not sure if the Caps are gonna say yes or not.”
Washington won the game 18 minutes 24 seconds into overtime, and nerves were temporarily calmed — middle-aged men in dress clothes whooping, co-workers exchanging sweaty hugs, Cahlan Mazur seizing his mom’s walker and thrusting it into the air again and again. But, as Capitals fans know, it takes four victories to win a playoff series — and Game 2 against New York is Friday night.
To be sure, sudden-death postseason hockey might cause such a malady — “Playoffitis,” Coleman called it — in many cities, among fans of many NHL teams. The symptoms seem especially acute in Washington, however, where sports fans have been battered into a state of near-constant skittishness.
For one thing, the city’s other pro teams have been mired in better than a decade of frustration and disappointment. The Redskins have won a single playoff game in the past 10 years. The Wizards have won a single playoff series since 1982. The Nationals have never had a winning season. D.C. United, which did last win the Major League Soccer title in 2004, hasn’t made the playoffs in three years.
But more than that, these Capitals have toyed with their fans’ emotions since becoming playoff regulars in 2008. They’ve had home-ice advantage in all four of their playoff series. All four have gone to a deciding Game 7, in the District. And the Capitals have lost three of those games, including last year’s shocking upset to the Montreal Canadiens after the Caps had amassed the NHL’s best regular season record and taken a series lead of three games to one.
“Once bitten, twice shy,” the team’s television play-by-play announcer, Joe Beninati, said on Thursday. “I understand where the people are coming from, and yeah, you can feel it in the stands: As soon as the game is nothing-nothing in the third period, fans are like, ‘Oh God, when is it going to happen? . . . It’s gonna happen to us again.’ I wish that specter would go away. I want it to, and it will. They’ve just got to win.”
And there’s no shortage of sentiment that this might be the year. Despite a turbulent season filled with injuries and losing streaks, the Caps again finished with the Eastern Conference’s best record, giving them the top seed in the first round of the playoffs against the eighth-seeded Rangers. They adopted a more defensive playing style, which has typically been the mark of Stanley Cup champions. They made several late-season trades, bringing in steady veterans such as Jason Arnott, who assisted on Wednesday’s game-winning goal. National analysts labeled them the best team in the East, and oddsmakers installed them as Eastern Conference favorites.