As Game 7s go, the Capitals’ 4-0 win at Tampa Bay on Wednesday was about as drama-free as they come. Alex Ovechkin scored 62 seconds into the first period to give Washington the lead, Andre Burakovsky scored a pair of second-period goals to provide some insurance, and Braden Holtby shut out the Lightning for a second consecutive game to clinch the Capitals’ second berth in the Stanley Cup finals. Ho-hum, hardly heart-pounding stuff, right? Well …
Mahesh Prasad, a Capitals season-ticket holder who estimates he has missed no more than about 10 home games since 2009, watched Wednesday’s Game 7 at home in Silver Spring. The 24-year-old was one of more than two dozen Capitals fans who volunteered to monitor their heart rate during the game with a personal wearable device and then provide the data to The Post.
At 7:49 p.m. Wednesday, Prasad shared a photo of his Apple Watch, which displayed a heart rate of 149 beats per minute. Considering a normal resting heart rate is somewhere between 60 and 100 beats per minute, and puck drop was still 30 minutes away, I was almost inclined to ask Prasad if he had a defibrillator handy.
“Not only today, but, like, every moment since Game 5, and just building up even more as the time got closer, were probably the most stressful moments of my life,” Prasad would say nearly two hours after the Capitals celebrated their series-clinching win. “All the things Caps fans have been through over the years: the anticipation, the fear of getting hurt again, just so many emotions to go through. So much stress and excitement. I can’t even put it into words.”
He could, however, put it into BPMs.
Before the game, Prasad said he hoped the Capitals took an early lead so he could calm down a little. He would get his wish. Prasad’s average heart rate slowly decreased as the game progressed, to 131 beats per minute at the start of the second period and 120 before the start of the third, by which time Washington’s lead had swelled to 3-0. His heart rate spiked again around 10:15 p.m., when Matt Niskanen was sent to the penalty box with more than 16 minutes remaining in regulation.
“I could never relax until the final whistle, because blowing those two-goal leads in the first round, and losing to Pittsburgh in the second round, over and over again [in previous years], they crushed my heart,” said Prasad, who got his Apple Watch the day before the playoffs began and his monitoring his heart rate since. “I have learned to put a protective wall around my heart and not get my hopes up, in the fear of being crushed again. It’s something I’ve learned over the years.”
A 2017 study published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology found peak heart rates for hockey spectators “most commonly occurred during overtime and scoring opportunities,” as one would expect, “and were comparable to heart rate increases during significant exercise.” The study also found that heart rates were typically higher for fans watching a game live compared with those watching on television.
Ricki Wood, a 21-year-old VCU student, traveled to Tampa for Game 7 with her dad and brother. During pregame warmups, Wood reported that her heart rate was 75 beats per minute. By puck drop, it was up to 84. If you only glanced at her Apple Watch, you’d think she was inside a mediation studio, not Amalie Arena.
“It was kind of like a stress-eating situation,” Wood said afterward. “I was munching on popcorn or whatever I could. I didn’t want to talk too much.”
Wood’s heart rate jumped to 90 beats per minute after Ovechkin’s early goal and to 96 when Tom Wilson pummeled Braydon Coburn about 20 minutes later. Her heart rate peaked at 108 beats per minute at 8:49 p.m., just before the end of the first period.
“It was definitely the most nerve-racking game I’ve ever been to,” said Wood, who started breathing easy after Nicklas Backstrom’s empty-net goal. “We all stood up and high-fived and said, ‘We’re actually going to do this.’ ”
Charlie West has taken a proactive approach to managing his stress during Capitals playoff games. The 30-year-old has been muting the game broadcast during the playoffs and asking Alexa to “play classical music” instead.
“I decided this year not to get too high with the wins or too low with the losses,” explained West, whose heart rate bounced between 68 and 94 beats per minute during Wednesday’s game. “I know nothing of classical music. I’ve never even played an instrument. But I’m an expert on these Caps teams, and they have a unique way of stressing me out. I figured I’d play something calm enough to keep me level but [that] wouldn’t put me to sleep.”
West turned the sound up on the game broadcast after Backstrom’s empty-net goal, which preceded his highest reading of the night.
“I have a 2-year-old, so I couldn’t get too crazy,” he said.
Another Capitals fan, Kevin F., takes a different approach to reducing anxiety during games by running on a treadmill. Kevin said he started running about 10 minutes into the first period and continued through the end of the second. “I watched the third with a beer in my hand,” he said.
Lee Seltman and her husband, Eric Shumsky, took the classical-music-as-Game-7-stress-reliever strategy to a different level, thought not by design. Months ago, the Capitals season-ticket holders bought tickets to see violinists Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman perform at the Kennedy Center. The date? You guessed it.
“I may be checking my Apple Watch. A lot,” Shumsky wrote before the concert, which started at 8 p.m. “Is that wrong?”
“We had our phones dimmed, but on,” Seltman said. “As we were sitting there, we kind of looked around and saw a few other people doing the same thing.”
While Seltman received score alerts through the NHL app, Shumsky sneaked a look at the video of Wilson’s fight. Toward the end of the show, Perlman took the microphone and announced that the Capitals had a 3-0 lead after two periods, which drew a mix of cheers and confused looks from the Kennedy Center audience.
“We have three short pieces to play,” Perlman said, according to Shumsky. “I’m dedicating one to each goal. I hope they haven’t scored again in the meantime, because there are only three.”
Seltman wasn’t wearing her Apple Watch during the performance but reported that it was “a really nice way to experience a Game 7″ after attending the Capitals’ home playoff games in person. Shumsky’s heart rate was steady until the couple got home and watched the final few minutes of Washington’s win on TV.
Jason Ngo watched Game 7 with his girlfriend and reported being much more nervous during Monday’s Game 6. “The first goal happened quickl,y and it was kind of an easy game,” said Ngo, whose heart rate hovered around 100 beats per minute until the final horn. “Nothing really settled in until the game was over.”
Adam Schwager, 20, attended the watch party at Capital One Arena along with roughly 10,000 other fans and sent updates at key points in the game. Ovechkin’s goal at 8:18 p.m. produced a spike of 161 beats per minute. Schwager’s heart rate was 104 beats per minute after Burakovsky’s second goal gave Washington a 3-0 lead, and he was excited again by Backstrom’s empty-net goal to seal the win.
Michael Zerbib, 26, watched the game from his apartment in Miami. His heart rate remained below 82 beats per minute throughout the game.
“A first-minute goal really takes some of the stress away, especially with how shutdown the defense played,” Zerbib said.
Jayme Alfano watched Game 7 from her customary spot on the couch at her home in Crofton. The superstitious 30-year-old shared updates from just before puck drop (a relaxed 64 beats per minute), after Ovechkin’s goal (an almost too perfect 88 beats per minute for No. 8) and after Burakovsky’s first goal (106 beats per minute).
Bryce Plant, 24, was surprised to see how calm he remained during Game 7. According to his Fitbit, Plant’s heart rate actually peaked Wednesday morning while he worked out and went golfing.
“I would guess staying calm was probably just a combination of the game not being close towards the end and also trying not to get too excited and get my hopes up in case it went poorly,” said Plant, who was considerably more stressed when he was in the crowd at PPG Paints Arena to see the Capitals close out the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round.
Bryce Romagnoli watched Game 7 from his basement in Winnipeg, Manitoba, with a beer during the first and second intermissions to calm his nerves. The 23-year-old’s heart rate ranged from 70 to 179 beats per minute, peaking around the time of Ovechkin’s goal and in the minutes leading up to Burakovsky’s first tally.
Tom Kuhne, 45, watched in Boulder, Colo., with his two Caps-crazy sons. At one point during the game, he said his neighbors texted him to be quiet. “I’m usually in the 50s or 60s while sitting around watching TV but was in the 80s and 90s tonight,” Kuhne wrote. “The spike at the end was because I had to take the dog for a walk after the game to blow off some adrenaline.”
Chris Pavlakos, 27, watched at home in Fredericksburg and experienced a very brief dip after Ovechkin’s goal around 8:18 p.m. His heart rate peaked before the start of the second period and hovered around 100 beats per minute for most of the third.
Chris Kimball, by contrast, was the most relaxed before the start of the second period. His heart rate peaked at 107 beats per minute before the start of the third.
Evan Szymkowicz’s heart rate chart looked something like a roller coaster during the game, ranging from 60 to 135 beats per minute. The 25-year-old was most relaxed late in the third period, as it became increasingly clear the Capitals would cruise into the next round.
Aaron H. also got calmer as the game wore on.
Max S.’s heart rate was above 100 beats per minute for most of the game.
Daniel S. reported that he burned close to 1,000 calories while pacing 2.34 miles and had a steady heart rate of more than 100 beats per minute throughout the game.
Emily Munson, 23, watched Game 7 with the “NYC Caps Crew” at a bar in New York. Her max heart rate during the game was 118 beats per minute, around the time of Burakovsky’s second goal. The spike at the end was the result of her running to catch a train.
David R., who watched the game from home, joked that he’d be happy to have the paramedics send updates after his heart attack in the third overtime. Luckily for everyone involved, that wasn’t necessary. Afterward, he reported that his heart rate was 88 beats per minute after Ovechkin’s first goal and 125 beats per minute after Wilson tussled with Coburn. “I don’t like fights,” he said, “but it set the tone.”
Zach Darnell, 24, watched the game at a Buffalo Wild Wings in Dover, Del. He reported his heart rate was 77 beats per minute before the national anthem, 127 beats per minute after Burakovsky’s first goal, 95 beats per minute after Niskanen’s third-period penalty and back up to 127 beats per minute when the game ended.
Here’s the heart rate chart for a Capitals fan named Jack, who attended the watch party at Capital One Arena, celebrated on the steps of the National Portrait Gallery and needed to charge his phone.
“Take a guess when the game was,” Aron W. wrote.
Chris Kotwicki, 24, watched at a bar in Fredericksburg.
Max B., 28, watched at home with his wife.
The takeaways from this highly unscientific look at a few Capitals fans’ heart rates during one of the biggest games in franchise history? The charts are fun to look at, goals are exciting and Capitals fans react to and manage the stress of playoff hockey in a variety of ways. Should I ever invest in a heart-rate monitor to wear on deadline, I imagine the output would look something like Prasad’s.
“I had no idea my pregame stress could reach that level,” said Prasad, the fan whose heart was pounding well before puck drop Wednesday. “I think that’s higher than it was for Game 2 in overtime in the first round. I think I’m definitely going to be a little bit more chill before Game 1 [of the Stanley Cup finals]. I’ll definitely enjoy the high of this for a few days.”
Better keep the defibrillator close, just in case.
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