Mother’s Day weekend was already a success for the Capitals and Nationals before the teams took ice and field on opposite sides of the country for simultaneous prime-time games on Sunday night. The Capitals had stolen home-ice advantage in the Eastern Conference finals against the Lightning with a dominating win in Game 1 on Friday. The Nationals had discovered the wonders of the Chase Field bullpen cart, taken the first three games against a Diamondbacks team that hadn’t lost a series all season and celebrated their win on Saturday with a late-night trip to In-N-Out.
Then, in what could be becoming the new normal for D.C. sports, things got even better.
The Capitals scored the last five goals in a 6-2 blowout win at Tampa Bay, sending Lightning fans headed for the exits at Amalie Arena midway through the period and Washington back to D.C. with a commanding two-games-to-none series lead. With a goal and two assists, Lars Eller helped everyone forget about Nicklas Backstrom, who missed his third consecutive game with a hand injury. About a half-hour later, Sean Doolittle struck out David Peralta to complete the Nationals’ four-game sweep at Arizona, moving Washington a season-high six games over .500 and within 1.5 games of the division-leading Atlanta Braves. Mark Reynolds, called up to replace fellow U-Va. product Ryan Zimmerman after the first baseman was placed on the disabled list with a strained oblique, hit a pair of home runs in his Nationals debut.
With everything coming up D.C. sports, Capitals Coach Barry Trotz and Nationals Manager Dave Martinez may have spent the rest of the night sending each other smiley face emoji, GIFs of camels and rainbows, and videos of cute dogs. Or maybe Martinez, who has donned Capitals gear while meeting with reporters before and after games for the past few weeks, simply texted something to the effect of, “Keep it up.”
“We’ve been texting with each other since the start of the playoffs, just wishing both teams luck,” Trotz said Saturday. “He’s been a great supporter, and obviously we have a big fan base and a passionate fan base. Hopefully we can take this as far as we can. As I said to our fans and everybody there, we’re going to do our absolute best and take it as far as we can.”
Since he arrived in Washington, Trotz has talked about his desire to change the tendency of the city’s sports fans to expect the worst come the postseason.
“We need to have a positive attitude; not the old stuff,” Trotz said before the 2015 playoffs. “This is a new era for basketball and hockey, and the baseball team, and we’re getting the football team straightened away. And we’ll go from there. It’s going to be contagious. I’m telling you. It’ll affect all the sports. Because we’re looking to be one of those cities where all our sports teams are competing against each other, competing for championships, and that’s what we want to do.”
A year later, Trotz said he was rooting for the Nationals in the playoffs, but he also suggested that the Cubs winning the World Series for the first time since 1908 could bode well for D.C.
“A hundred years, and they might win it this year,” Trotz said. “That might be the best thing; best for everybody that’s been in our situation. Because I would say the odds of us doing it are increasing every year, they’re not diminishing.”
The Cubs did win in 2016 with Martinez as their bench coach. Now the Nationals’ manager is cheering on the Capitals, whose odds have never been better. Martinez led the “Let’s Go Caps!” chant at Capital One Arena before the start of Game 1 of Washington’s second-round series against the Penguins. While Martinez regularly texts Trotz, MASN’s Dan Kolko reports the two have yet to meet face-to-face. Martinez is superstitious, Kolko tweeted, and “wants to let Trotz take care of business in the playoffs first.”
The Nationals, who have won 13 of 15, host the Yankees at Nationals Park on Tuesday and Wednesday. They have an off day on Thursday, which happens to be the same day as Game 4 of the Capitals-Lightning series at Capital One Arena. It’ll be something of an upset if Martinez and a group of Nationals players aren’t there rocking the red.
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