There will be a lot of people saying the same thing in different words this week. A lot of people saying things they’ve said before. A lot of people running out of things to say. That started Wednesday night — after the Caps lost yet another Game 7, and yet another time to Pittsburgh, and yet another time in the second round — and it will continue for at least a few more days. I probably was supposed to put my own slant on it, but I stared at a blank screen for a while and then left Verizon Center. I’ve done some version of this story so many times, and I didn’t have another way to do it.
I even interviewed fans for the piece I never did.
“Every year it’s the same [expletive] story,” said Will Brower.
“What a tragedy,” said my friend Bill Keefe. “How many years? This has been really overdone.”
“Worst night ever to be a Washington sports fan,” said Richard Strauss [really]. “It’s so sad. It’s really a sad night. It hurt. It hurt. It’s tough to be so entirely attached and at the same time so emotionally drained.”
“The curse remains,” said Reza Khadiri.
I even found the fan who was dressed in a full-body Batman costume, with a sign reading “Batman Always Beats the Penguin.”
“It didn’t go like that in the comic books,” said that man, Jim Garlock, as he filed out along the everyone else. “It’s sad. We rocked the red as best we could.”
Then a guy named Steve, who had maybe had a few, stopped me.
“We’re [bleeped],” he said. “D.C. sports, across the board, we’re [bleeped]. We are. It’s fine. But we are [bleeped].”
But again, I’ve written this 43 times, in 43 different ways, and the “interviewing sad fans” angle isn’t a new one. If anything, I saw less anger and sadness and frustration in the concourse Wednesday night, and more blank resignation.
The point of all this is, though, that ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt offered his own Caps eulogy for his One Big Thing late Wednesday night. All of us are intimate with this material. Bringing the sad song to a national audience is at least a little bit different, even if his words sounded familiar.
Van Pelt opened his show with the pithy version: “I am sick and tired, sick and freaking tired of this same routine with the Caps,” he said.
And then later, he launched into the extended remix.
“The specific details of this season for the Washington Capitals didn’t really matter heading into their second-round series with Pittsburgh, did they?” he began. “Sure they won the Presidents Trophy this year, best team in the NHL for the balance of the grueling October-to-April marathon.
“But they won it last year, too, met Pittsburgh in the second round of those playoffs as well, and lost. The weight of the Washington Capitals’ past is a lot to drag around. So many playoff disappointments. The list of things they’ve never done as a franchise is mostly whittled down to the most glaring omission: They’ve never won a Stanley Cup.
“While we’re doing some accounting, they had only one more playoff series win over Pittsburgh than they had Stanley Cups: They beat ’em in ’94 in seven games. On the other side of the ledger, eight different times, Pittsburgh had ended Washington seasons. Circumstances surrounding who was favored, how long it went, all different, but the end was the same for the Capitals: handshakes followed by tee times. And in half of those, interestingly enough, Pittsburgh went on to win the Stanley Cup.
“So given that history, combined with the history that says teams down 3-1 in a series lose more than 90 percent of the time, I don’t know how long the list was of people who believed the Capitals could make a comeback. I know I wasn’t on it.
“But a three-goal third erased a one-goal deficit in Game 5, then a five-goal explosion in Pittsburgh compelled the Caps to play this Game 7 with the stakes understood. A win would not erase their past, but it would certainly give them a shot at a future that could. Instead the excitement and optimism of the day [was] drowned out by yet another hard dose of reality delivered from the needle of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“It didn’t matter that they outshot Pittsburgh in every single game; it’s yet another verse of the same never-ending song that has Capitals fans wondering if it will ever have a different end. The only thing that feels like it’s ending is this team as it’s constructed. There are decisions to be made in free agency, some of which are out of the Capitals’ hands.
“This year was supposed to be different. It isn’t. The Caps season has been put to bed early, and it’s the Penguins who have tucked them in.”
And then he paused, and seemed almost emotional, before finishing the thought.