Ah, to heck with that. These Washington Capitals, they know something about pushing past last call, about extending a party. And so there was Wednesday in Chinatown, one final group hug with these guys before the present becomes more important than the past.
“All the fans see the Cup on the ice,” Ovechkin said. “It was kind of a historic moment for us.”
Open a new chapter, then. Why not start it with a goal from T.J. Oshie on the very first shift of the season? You half expected Oshie to pull a Bud Light from under his sweater, tilt his head back and chug it through the mesh. But that would have prevented him from assisting on the next goal just 83 seconds later, and then helping out on Ovechkin’s first goal of the new year — you guessed it — on the power play, from the left circle, right on cue.
How’s that for a vibe? The Caps followed the raising of the banner — man, it’s huge and handsome — and the final glimpse of the Cup with a result that left only one conclusion: They’ll go 82-0-0 and cruise through the playoffs, and these feelings, previously unattainable, will be a permanent part of life around here.
Yet this evening wasn’t about the 60 minutes of hockey against the Boston Bruins. Because these things must be recorded, and because the game counts in the standings, it’s worth noting the Capitals won, 7-0, and looked insanely good doing it against a team that is supposed to contend in the East. But they could have lost 14-0, and the throngs in red would have gotten what they paid for. And more.
“I think everything is better than you expect it to be,” veteran center Nicklas Backstrom said. “Everything was so cool.”
When they filed out late Wednesday night, it wasn’t the goal from Oshie or the next one from Evgeny Kuznetsov or the five that followed that mattered on the Metro or in the car. It wasn’t even Tom Wilson’s 20-game suspension announced Wednesday, which could have shaped a depressing story line for the season’s first two months, the first two months this franchise has ever defended the Cup.
Nah, there was no penalty or personnel move about which to gripe. I mean, it’s as if old demons are now served up to be slew. The Caps drove Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask from the game in the second period. His replacement: Jaroslav Halak. Remember when Halak was the embodiment of springtime pain around here? No? Psst. He was Montreal’s goalie when the eighth-seeded Canadiens came back from a 3-1 series deficit against the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Caps in 2010. Now, these characters are paraded about so the Washington crowd can say, collectively: We’re over it!
Really, though, Wednesday’s specifics were all gravy. Really thick, tasty gravy with all the little bits scraped off the bottom of the pan, sure. But what mattered Wednesday wasn’t the result or the details within. What mattered Wednesday were the images. What mattered were the feelings.
“When you’re a part of something like that, how can you not get excited to get it going again,” Oshie said, “and try and do it again?”
If you can’t quite remember what pulsed through you that night of June 7 — whether you were on the streets around Capital One Arena or on your couch or in a bar or (gulp) all the way in Las Vegas, following the Caps and the Cup from club to club — well, the Caps did their best to rekindle it. Long before they won this thing, the Capitals, as an organization, excelled in man-it’s-dusty-in-here videos. That was before they were champions.
So, predictably, they outdid themselves Wednesday, the first time these guys skated in front of their home fans for a meaningful game since the Cup was theirs. When the video tribute started on the scoreboard that hangs above center ice, the Caps — on ice for the pregame ceremony — skated back from the blue line, craning their necks to look up. Mumford and Sons played in the background, easing in and out of calls from Caps play-by-play men Joe Beninati and John Walton: “These days of dust/Which we’ve known/Will blow away with this new sun.”
And there were all the moments you wanted, those you couldn’t quite remember and those you’ll never forget — Lars Eller in double overtime against Columbus, Kuzy finishing off the Penguins, becoming Eastern Conference champs in Tampa when that felt like some sort of pinnacle, and then everything against the Vegas Golden Knights, Braden Holtby’s save and, finally, Ovechkin letting out a roar, raising the Cup above his head to show his team, to show his town, to show the world.
What’ll stand out about Wednesday night to me, though, is one image. Ovechkin, the captain, had skated with the Cup around the rink as his teammates stood in line and tapped their sticks on the ice. A final video played to Queen’s “We are the Champions,” and it sounded like Freddie Mercury himself was leading the way at Wembley Stadium, because each member of the sellout crowd belted out the chorus at the top of his or her lungs. Ted Leonsis, the team’s majority owner — and the one owner in this town who will get cheered at a public appearance — had just stepped to the mic and said, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you from the bottom of our collective hearts. Thank you!”
The banner followed. Simple and elegant, it reads, “Stanley Cup Champions 2018,” because there’s really nothing else that needs to be said. As it was pulled to the rafters, the Capitals gathered in front of it, with the Cup in their midst, for one final picture.
“It might have felt long to some people,” Oshie said. “But I could have watched that thing go up for days.”
And then they skated to the side, and there was the Cup, on the ice alone. With the banner rising slowly, I’ll admit it: just looking at that chalice brought chills. A spotlight made it shine. Who among us doubts now — doubts even a little bit — that it’s the best trophy in sports? Somehow, all by its lonesome on the ice at the start of a new season, it made you think about everything that went into getting it there, finally getting it there and what fun the ride seems like now.
There’s another season at hand, and who knows what it might bring? Does it even matter? The Stanley Cup was here, on the ice in Washington. The banner is in the rafters, forever and ever. There’s still time, though. Pick your moment, and freeze it. Wednesday night reminded everyone there’s still fun to be had in arguing over which one was the best.