With the Capitals on the cusp of their first Stanley Cup title in franchise history, ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt, who grew up in the D.C. area, dedicated his “One Big Thing” segment on Tuesday’s “SportsCenter” to the team’s quest for one more win. In his three-minute monologue, Van Pelt described the madness he witnessed inside and outside Capital One Arena at Monday’s Game 4, urged fellow Capitals fans to choose optimism ahead of Game 5 despite the team’s past heartbreaks and responded to his colleague Michael Wilbon’s recent assertion that D.C. is a “minor league sports town.” Here’s a transcript.
“The most important point to make about the Caps: They are still a win away from the Stanley Cup,” Van Pelt said. “As Barry Trotz and a number of players have alluded to following the 6-2 win on Monday, the last one, the hardest one to get. An equally important point to make, and it’s been made quite a bit after the win, is how the Caps have done with 3-1 series leads. As ‘SportsCenter’ tweeted out, they’ve blown five. No other franchise has blown more in Stanley Cup [playoffs] history. But according to T.J. Oshie, who was spectacular Monday after he got his Metro fare card sorted out, ‘We’re trying to write our own story here. It seems like the rest of the city is on board with that. We’re going to go about our business. We haven’t dwelled much on the past.’
“This brings me to the point I want to talk about: the city is on board. I was back in my hometown on Monday night and it was just awesome. The weather was perfect, and for blocks, every direction in Chinatown, D.C., the entire city was on fire. A sea of red, everywhere you looked on 7th Street, and every surrounding street. The wheels of the bandwagon are buckling under the weight of all the people new to the party. As most everyone knows, it has been forever since a professional team has won anything there. It’s not a Cleveland drought, but it’s been 91 seasons for the four franchises since there’s been a title to celebrate. And the stars for the other D.C. teams are all in as well. I was in line walking into the game behind Redskins star [linebacker] Ryan Kerrigan. We just laughed at the scene and said, ‘This is insane.’ Speaking of nuts, how ’bout Nationals stars Max Scherzer and Ryan Zimmerman in full Caps regalia pregame. Scherzer is a maniac. I also saw all-star Bradley Beal in the building as well, from the Wizards. All of D.C.’s other sports royalty were enjoying the night. Well, almost all of them.
“As electric as the atmosphere inside the building is, the scene after the win is hard to adequately capture. With my dear friend Michael Wilbon in mind, there was nothing ‘minor league’ about it. It was just a human weight of excitement. The steps of the National Portrait Gallery, certainly one of the centers of the celebration, but it’s just not big enough to hold everyone. They were just everywhere, in every street, full of the excitement of being this close, as close as the franchise has ever been to this moment. No fan base would be more justified of being filled with dread up 3-1, but if you’re not going to let yourself be happy that they’ve gotten this far, that they’ve got this lead, what’s the point of being a fan? They have slayed the Penguins dragon, they won a Game 7 on the road to get to the final, and now they’re 60 minutes away from exorcising every last demon. For the first time maybe ever, this team’s fans, both old and new, are filled with an unfamiliar feeling: optimism. It could still go terribly wrong, yes, it could, but they’re 60 minutes away from a parade, and the Stanley Cup. It costs the same to be optimistic as it does to be pessimistic, and optimism is liberating. Rock the freakin’ red.”
Wilbon, of course, referred to D.C. as a “minor league sports town” after Capitals fans celebrated the team’s second-round win over the Penguins. He would later expound on that belief in an interview with The Post’s Tim Bontemps. On Tuesday’s episode of “Pardon the Interruption,” Wilbon told co-host Tony Kornheiser that he’s not ready to declare the Capitals Stanley Cup champions, just as he refused to believe his beloved Chicago Cubs were World Series champions in 2016 until they recorded the final out in Game 7.
“The Capitals, good for them,” Wilbon said. “I’m cheering for them, I watched [Monday] night, two periods, I fell asleep at 9:15 like you did. When they are skating with the Cup, I will say it. They’ve lost 3-1 leads before. I’ll get to it when I see it.”
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