We all eyed this day from the moment the Wizards’ second-round schedule came out. Or at least I did. I was sitting in the Starbucks at the corner of East-West Highway and Wisconsin just eyeing it: Wizards Game 5, Capitals Game 7, Orioles at Nats, laptops bursting into flames, streets running wet with actual gushing torrents of adrenaline and/or tears, straight whiskey pouring down the walls, hearts full-on leaping out of chest cavities and strolling around living rooms, media members just trying to figure out a way to harness all of that incredible energy into page views, ESPN 980 breaking down the Redskins’ potential 2028 opponents.
(Do you know the last day I’ve had off? It’s been so long. I think it was back when “Dart Guy” still referred to, I dunno, a weird loner using Delaware public transportation.) (If I had more days off the jokes would be better.) (What if these teams keep winning? What if we never sleep again? Do you know how terrible the jokes would be in early June?) (Who’s gonna cover minicamp if we’re all in Nashville and Oakland?)
Anyhow, then I started debating this with friends on Monday afternoon: Just where would a Wednesday playoffapalooza rank in the recent annals of Washington sports? (Or even the not-so recent annals. Like, don’t let the turn of the century artificially break up your thoughts.) (That would be an annal fissure.) (I need a day off so bad.)
Of course, remember that we had a nearly identical situation in 2015: The Wizards were playing a Game 5 on the road against a No. 1 seed, in a second-round series tied 2-2, and the Caps were playing a Game 7 against a longtime antagonist, in a second-round series tied 3-3. On the same night. The second Wednesday in May, as it turns out. The Wizards lost to the Hawks. The Capitals lost to the Rangers. In retrospect, that was not the biggest D.C. sports night in a generation.
This is different. (Maybe.) (I mean, it could be.) (If both teams win.) (Or at least if one of them does.) (Did you know rookie minicamp starts this weekend?)
No, but seriously, this is different. In 2015, John Wall was injured, which put a ceiling on how far that team could go. There was no point during that season when you wondered, “Wait a second, could the Wizards actually challenge for a spot in the NBA Finals?” That team just didn’t have the seasoning or the coaching staff or the superstar leader to really shake up the Eastern Conference.
This team? I think if they lose to the Celtics, it would now constitute a disappointment. I think if they survive this round, they could give the Cavs the sternest test the East has to offer. And I think a Wizards-Cavaliers Eastern Conference Finals would be Washington’s biggest basketball moment since the 1970s.
Meanwhile, in 2015, the Caps were in the first year of the Trotz and MacLellan regime, the first year with a just-blossoming Kuznetsov/Burakovsky offense, the first year of a window that now appears to have been about three years long. Those Caps weren’t supposed to do much of anything, and even though they went all Capsy in losing a 3-1 series lead, the season still felt like a modest success.
This team? I think if they lose to the Penguins, some fans might never get over it. I think it would go down among the most disappointing losses in franchise history, which is like saying a Metro delay will go down as among the most frustrating irritants in WMATA history. If the Caps survive this round, they become clear Stanley Cup favorites. They will have purged so many 3-1-series-lead nightmares, will have erased so many Crosby-always-beats-Ovechkin narratives, will have soothed so many we-never-win-anything pains in the left side of your abdomen. Right under your rib cage. The kind that literally prevents you from bending over to pick up a pen. The kind that will cause you to buckle against the wall in Panera, at which point a nice lady will stare at you in concern and ask if maybe she should call someone. Just me? Golly, do I need a day off.
It’s hard to properly estimate the fallout if both teams lose. The Capitals roster will look significantly different next year. The fan base is resilient, but bouncing back from this one is like bouncing back from an anvil on top of your head. You have to imagine a few folks might request a timeout. Of the 20-year variety. Barry Trotz’s reputation … will not be helped. Nor will those of his team’s stars.
The Wizards could still bounce back from a Game 5 loss. But they’d have to win two straight, would have to win a Game 7 in Boston after dropping five straight there this season, and would have to buck some major odds.
But forget all that. Because it’s also hard to properly estimate the rejoicing if both teams win. No D.C. team has reached the conference final round since 1998, an unimaginable span filled with playoff letdowns and near-misses and countless bad blog items. That drought hovers over local sports fans of a certain age, who spout off about it incessantly. It’s made rooting for D.C. sports teams synonymous with rooting for dental pain, or rooting for toxic algae blooms, or rooting for paper cuts. In one night, the Caps could wipe out that haunting misery, while the Wizards could put themselves in prime position to do the same.
And so if that happens? For Washington sports, that would be bigger than the Terps 2002 national title, since our region is hardly unified behind Maryland. It would be bigger than George Mason, since our region mostly doesn’t care about George Mason. It would be more significant than the Redskins drafting Robert Griffin III, or the return of Joe Gibbs, since neither of those proved to be transformative, if you put aside RGIII transforming into a breathing hashtag. Ditto for Michael Jordan’s decision to play for the Wizards, an event not one person (who doesn’t work at the Ritz) celebrates now. It would be more significant than the Redskins beating the Cowboys to end the 2012 season, or the Redskins winning in Tampa to get into the NFL quarterfinals.
We’re talking about the hockey team potentially winning its biggest game in 19 years, at the exact same moment, on the exact same night that the basketball team is potentially winning its biggest game in 38 years. That’s laptops bursting into flames, streets running wet with actual gushing torrents of adrenaline and/or happy tears, and straight whiskey pouring down the walls.
To me, there are two events in the past 20 years that are arguably bigger: the day Major League Baseball returned to Washington, and the day Daniel Snyder purchased the Redskins. But both were gradual developments, and neither provided the same sort of instant emotional overload that two Wednesday night wins would prompt.
So I’d argue this could be the biggest D.C. sports night in many of your lifetimes. Savor the possibilities. Imagine the happiness. Take a day off work to prepare yourself. You deserve it.