Editor/columnist

Another year. (By Geoff Burke / USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, I called all my favorite Washington Capitals fans — serious Capitals fans. The kinds of guys who wear red, white and blue Capitals jerseys. I couldn’t reach any of them. Frankly, I’m worried about them.

How much can a Capitals fan endure?

That’s a 100-percent perfectly appropriate lead paragraph for a Caps column on this morning. Turns out it was written in April. Of 1989.

It was the start of Post column by the great William Gildea, headlined “Capitals are missing indefinable something; Latest collapse proves talent only goes so far.” Which would be a 100-percent appropriate headline for a Caps column on this morning. Even though it’s 28 years old.

The Caps, for many, are now defined by their playoff failures in the Rock the Red Era. They’ve had nine playoff appearances in 10 years, none lasting past the second round. They’ve amassed a 3-7 record in Game 7s. They’ve scored five total goals in their final five games over their past five playoff seasons.

But for the diehards, this isn’t some outlandish millennial blip. This is a seamless part of a long, gruesome and almost incomprehensible history. The team has been doing this to people for 30 years. There have been suggestions that this year’s dead end was especially painful, and I’m not the one to judge. But it seems to me there is a numbing effect from this scabrous past. The Game 7 loss to Montreal in 2010 felt shocking and jarring to me, then still a Caps newcomer. Even last year, which we all saw as the start of a new era, seemed more deflating.

This time, it just felt like the Caps Capped.

Washington Capitals fans sound off after Game 7 loss (again) to the Pittsburgh Penguins. (Dalton Bennett,Patrick Martin/The Washington Post)

When you kind of expect the worst, it’s hard for the worst to be surprising.

I didn’t have much to say at the start of this season, because it seemed pointless to talk about optimism and building for the playoffs and learning from past mistakes. Instead, I wrote a column about optimism and building for the playoffs and learning from past mistakes, consisting entirely of copy-and-pasted sentences from past columns. It was cynical and obnoxious and possibly lazy (although it took a lot of work), but it seemed appropriate. And, sadly, the same move now seems appropriate again.

It remains cynical and obnoxious, and if you’re feeling at all on edge, I would recommend clicking somewhere else. But maybe there’s a bit less pain if you see this year’s disappointment not as an event specific to 2017, or to the Rock the Red Era, but as just one slice from more than 40 years of pain.

Anyhow, here it is. Twenty-one different stories from 15 different seasons. The bibliography is at the bottom. The only changes were substituting generic nouns for specific names, and removing a couple giveaway words. If you tried to guess which years were attached to which sentences, trust me, you would fail.

Capitals are missing indefinable something; Latest collapse proves talent only goes so far

By 30 years of Washington Post staff writers

Yesterday, I called all my favorite Washington Capitals fans — serious Capitals fans. The kinds of guys who wear red, white and blue Capitals jerseys. I couldn’t reach any of them. Frankly, I’m worried about them.

How much can a Capitals fan endure? (1989)

“Just silence, the sound of silence,” said one fan “It’s over. It’s just done. Wake up tomorrow, and I don’t know. …”

I don’t know either. Let’s ask a player.

“If someone came to your work and stepped on your desk or punched you in the head, that’s how I feel,” he said. (2010)

With the Capitals, the regular season is like a night on the town. In the playoffs, everybody finds out the town closes down at midnight. (1989)

The Capitals played in the Stanley Cup finals this year. Unfortunately for them, they did so in their minds.

“This was our year,” one winger said. (1986)

When the Capitals played their best hockey this season, there was no better team in the NHL. The Capitals’ scoring, which was spread nicely among a dozen players during the season, failed to materialize in the playoffs. (2000)

“You know,” said the coach, “there are not a lot of rewards for finishing high in the regular season.” (1986)

The Caps’ funeral room is now an annual visit like a wake: a mix of sadness, what-might-have-been and the self-delusion that may be a requirement to play such a painful, disfiguring sport.

“This was the best team, as a team, that we’ve had,” a defenseman said. “Depth, coaching, structure, system, we had it. But things happen. This result doesn’t reflect how bad we wanted it.”

Unfortunately, that has been the Caps’ response to playoff losses since Biblical times, when they blew a two-game lead to the Pharisees. (2013)

That’s why almost nobody in town believes in the Caps. That’s why almost nobody in town thought the Capitals would actually win the series against Pittsburgh. Capitals fans have been conditioned by past failures to expect the worst. (1996)

They had momentum, but they couldn’t close. They couldn’t push the puck past a second-string goalie. (1996)

“It’s terrible feeling now,” one forward said. “It’s probably [the] best team I played [for].” (2012)

Good intentions, good results, then playoff mortification, year after year, followed by the same mantra: There’s nothing wrong. We were just unlucky or injured. Next year: our turn. Keep the sellouts coming. (2011)

Sometimes, this Caps’ cavalcade of misfortune almost gets to be too much to bear. How much pain and bad luck can you watch and call it entertainment? That’s why many fans simply view these annual disasters as comedy. It’s a defense mechanism against appreciating how hard, and well, the Capitals sometimes play, even when they end up in their normal role.

As much as anything, the Caps may need to fight against the sense of fatalism that has surrounded the team for so long. Somehow, the Capitals need to spit in the eye of every bad break and every debatable call they meet in the playoffs. Otherwise, they will always seem haunted when they reach the postseason. They will always have that extra ghost of past failure with them. (2003)

It all feels so depressingly familiar, almost like walking down a street, hoping the neighborhood has changed — oblivious to the fact a manhole cover has been removed seconds before you fall through in utter agony.

You walk down the same street the next year and fall through again, same time, every May. (2013)

Not the coach, not his star player, not the capacity crowd on hand at Verizon Center could believe that a season that began amid hopes of a ticker-tape parade down Pennsylvania Avenue had instead ended in ignominy.

“I have nothing to say right now,” said one forward, who, like his teammates, is headed home for a long summer, one that begins with more questions than answers. (2010)

“We just didn’t rise to the occasion,”the coach said. “Our top players have to all contribute. All weren’t able to. Some guys played extremely well, but we did not have the consistent, disciplined play throughout the whole lineup we had through the year.” (1986)

This is what Washington has for a hockey team: A never-ending series of players who work hard, always get to the playoffs and then just don’t have what it takes to go anywhere. It’s getting rather tiresome.

When the coach spoke of “organizational baggage,” he had a point to make: It’s not about these guys per se, it’s about this organization. “I have a hard time,” he said, “buying into the organization’s successes and failures being heaped upon the current players.” (1996)

What do the Capitals need? A few more good men. Ones who will make them better, but maybe more importantly, make them believe in themselves. Lift the burden of their uncertainties. Some fellows with big hearts and sharp pencils to take names. (1989)

The worst part is, the Capitals players had themselves believing they had the team, the talent and enough ornery players to tap in the puck when the supernovas couldn’t. They actually had convinced each other they could bring one of the four North American major team-sport championships to Washington for the first time since the Redskins last won the Super Bowl in 1992.

Shockingly, this Cup-or-bust franchise is now dispersing to different parts of the globe to inexplicably watch the rest of the NHL playoffs. (2010)

“I really thought this was the year for this team,” the goalie said. “In all my years, this is the best chance I’ve had. (1992)

It was a team built for the postseason, with a blend of scoring, defense, leadership and depth. It had, as one player said, “that special feeling all year.” (2016)

“Just pure disappointment,” a defenseman said.  That’s what it is. I’m so disappointed and [ticked] off that we lost, it’s not even funny.” (1995)

“Disappointing,” a forward said. “Disappointing.”

“It’s a lot to digest right now,” a defenseman said. “Guys are hurt, for sure.” (2015)

“Over seven games, I think we beat them in every category except the final result. That tends to make you look for sympathy and ask, ‘Why us?’ ” said the general manager. “But you have to remember that good teams find ways to win.”

Except the Capitals, otherwise a good team. (1987)

For many Washingtonians, the Caps long ago ceased to be a mere hockey team. They’re turning into the stuff of larger legend. Each spring they surpass themselves in ritual suffering. You laugh because crying seems excessive. But nobody deserves this sort of annual embarrassment. Yet nobody knows how to stop it. (1995)

Pull the covers back over your face. Get back in that ball. And don’t set the alarm. When you wake up, eventually, it’ll all be the same as it ever was. (2017)

Bibliography. (All stories come from The Washington Post.)

Gildea, William. (1989, April 16.) “Capitals are missing indefinable something; Latest collapse proves talent only goes so far.”

Steinberg, Dan. (2010, April 28.) “Caps lose Game 7, D.C. fans suffer again.”

Fachet, Robert. (1986, April 29.) “Picking up the Pieces and Looking Ahead; Capitals, With Mind on Cup, Overlooked Matter at Hand.”

Gildea, William. (2000, April 23.) “They Were Just a Shooter Short.”

Boswell, Thomas. (1986, April 29.) “Capitals Should Digest Some Humility.”

Kornheiser, Tony. (1996, April 30.) “It’s a Gag We’ve Heard Before.”

Carrera, Katie. (2012, May 12.) “Washington Capitals fall to N.Y. Rangers in Game 7.”

Boswell, Thomas. (2013, May 14.) “Washington Capitals’ playoff exit: A tradition that’s getting old.”

Boswell, Thomas. (2011, May 6.) “It’s time for the Caps to trade their road map for a new GPS.”

Boswell, Thomas. (2003, April 21.) “After Meltdown, a Familiar Letdown.”

Wise, Mike. (2013, May 14.) “Capitals stars no longer young, certainly outgunned.”

El-Bashir, Tarik. (2010, April 29.) “Top-seeded Washington Capitals knocked out of Stanley Cup playoffs by eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens.)

Frey, Jennifer. (1996, April 29.) “The Song Remains The Same.”

Wise, Mike. (2010, April 29.) “Mike Wise on the Washington Capitals’ stunning loss to the Montreal Canadiens.”

Wilbon, Michael. (1992, May 3.) “No Choking This Time: The Better Team Won.”

Steinberg, Dan. (2016, May 10.) “The best season in Capitals history ends in a painfully familiar spot.”

Hochberg, Len. (1995, May 20.) “Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda; Caps Dumbfounded By Loss to Penguins.”

Prewitt, Alex. (2015, May 13.) “Rangers continue Game 7 mastery of Capitals.”

Boswell, Thomas. (1987, April 20.) “Ah, Suspense! Oh, Shoot — Inevitability.”

Boswell, Thomas. (1995, May 19.) “There They Go, Again.”

Svrluga, Barry. (2017, May 10.) “Say it again, Capitals: Round 2, Game 7, Loss.”