From watching the wild-card game from their hotel rooms in St. Louis, to finding nearby eateries during their trip to New York to watch Game 2 because their hotel wasn’t showing the game, to attending Game 3 on Sunday night, the Capitals are among the Nationals’ biggest supporters.
“I was probably more nervous watching that wild-card game than Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals two years ago,” Forsythe said. “I was a nervous fan. It was a lot tougher to watch than be a part of just because we all want them to do so well. We saw the way the city reacted with what we did a couple years ago, and we’re hoping that can happen for them, too, because we will be part of it for sure.”
It was the merging of both fan groups, and now it’s the Capitals’ turn to reciprocate. Currently, the Capitals’ “Hard Hat” award is in the form of a Nationals batting helmet. The award is given to the most deserving player of the night.
Forsythe said the team jokingly had thrown out the idea of having the award in the form of a Nationals batting helmet after watching the wild-card game, and players loved it. So, with little Nationals gear available to them in St. Louis, the team improvised, buying a red batting helmet and putting a paper Nats logo on it. Defenseman Martin Fehervary got the honor of wearing it the first night, after his NHL debut. Then, when the team traveled to New York to play the Islanders, the Nationals’ equipment staff sent the Capitals a real batting helmet to use.
One of the most supportive Capitals has been center Evgeny Kuznetsov.
Kuznetsov, who said he is one of the few Russians who “actually likes baseball” and “baseball is not boring” to him, attended both the wild-card game and Game 3 of the NLDS on Sunday. Opening the season on a three-game suspension for inappropriate conduct, Kuznetsov instead took the opportunity to watch live baseball. He was caught on video doing his famously joyful prancing bird celebration after the comeback win and high-fiving anyone around him as chaos ensued.
“I like spending time over there, and plus I like this type of atmosphere, especially in this type of game, you know?” he said. “It is not just to support D.C. sports; it is showing respect to our fans and to D.C. fans that even if we still like some other teams, we still support our culture.”
The 27-year-old said he knew nothing about baseball until six years ago, when he first joined the Capitals. Recently, he became more invested, watching more baseball during the offseason because “there is not much on TV during the summer.” Kuznetsov said one of his good friends is a New York Yankees fan, so “just to piss him off” he got into the habit of watching baseball games and rooting for any team but the Yankees. Now Kuznetsov is fully on board with the Nationals.
“I mean always when one of your teams plays better and better every year, you try to get involved,” Kuznetsov said. “When your team sucks, it is hard to cheer for them, right? It is hard to be involved. You know, I am one of those people who always believe in the teams on the bottom."
Kuznetsov said he does not have a relationship with any of the Nationals but would like to.
“I mean, I wish!” Kuznetsov said. “I see them a couple times in the locker room, but you know, what am I going to tell them? ‘Hey, what’s up?’ They have a pretty busy schedule."
Goaltender Braden Holtby is one of the biggest baseball fans in the Capitals’ dressing room; he grew up playing the sport in Canada. Holtby played baseball instead of hockey during the summer months, a catcher and shortstop, until he signed professionally to play hockey. He rooted mainly for the Toronto Blue Jays during his childhood, briefly also watching the Montreal Expos.
“Growing up there, [baseball and hockey] went hand in hand,” he said. “I didn’t like one more than the other; it just so happens that there is a little more opportunity for hockey players in Canada. The season in western Canada is a little longer for hockey.”
Holtby knew some former Nationals, such as Bryce Harper, better than the current ones, but he still enjoys crossing paths with the players and believes in their playoff chances.
“That team is awesome,” Holtby said. “Looks like they have fun and a lot of good guys on that team, so it is easy to get behind them. It is really fun to watch.”
For Forsythe, supporting the Nationals has been nothing new. He became close friends with outfielder Adam Eaton three years ago when their wives made introductions. With sons the same age, Forsythe a big baseball fan and Eaton a hockey fan, the two got along well. Forsythe wore a Nationals hat on the ice the morning of the wild-card game.
“I think there has always been more of an open connection between the two teams for some reason,” Forsythe said. “Whatever it is, I think it’s only grown, and obviously over the last few years both teams have been having a little bit of success. We get a lot of support from them, whether it is in the playoffs or when they are around, and there are always guys at the games or at practices and stuff. The least we can do is return the favor.”