The Washington Capitals are playing for a chance at an appearance in the Stanley Cup for the first time in 20 years. Their appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals is the farthest they’ve been since that 1998 run. There were many fans that came to Kettler Capitals Iceplex to support the team at their morning skate on Tuesday and NoVa Caps caught up with three notable fans to hear their thoughts on what it was like being a fan the last time the Caps made it this far and the excitement of being back here 20 years later.
Anna Rockett moved to D.C. from England back in 1995 and became a Capitals fan through her husband. She was sporting a blue Capitals jersey that was prominently worn during the 1990’s with the iconic eagle in the front. She described what the buzz around the area was like then compared to now.
“The buzz was not as much as it is at this moment. This moment, the city seems to be behind them so much more,” said Rockett. “There seems to be more energy and the people want it more. There’s a real feeling of excitement that this is a Washington team that has made it this far.”
Greg Christian, who’s been a Capitals fan right from day one in 1974 had a similar comment. At the time the Capitals made it to the Eastern Conference Final, Capital One Arena was a brand new facility which was then called the MCI Center.
“The Arena was new and it was a good atmosphere but it hadn’t gotten to the “Rock the Red” era so there wasn’t as much enthusiasm in the city for the team like there is now,” said Christian.
NoVa Caps also caught up with Sean Malarkey, who was sporting a rare “Caps” t-shirt that he got back in 1975. He too has been a fan from the beginning and gave a good recollection of that deep Capitals run back in 1998. Malarkey only breaks out this tee on special occasions, this particular occasion being the biggest one to date.
“That (playoff run in 1998) was just out of the blue. I didn’t expect the team to do as well as they did. I broke out this shirt and went to Games 3 and 4 at MCI Center for the Cup. It was disappointing because we ended up getting swept but it was still exciting,” Malarkey said. “I remember meeting some Detroit fans at the game and they told me ‘please don’t get your expectations up. You don’t have a chance against us’. They were right but it was still a lot of fun. 20 years since that date… I can’t believe it’s been that long already. Wow.”
It’s been a long time coming. There were numerous times the Capitals had a chance to get this far but simply couldn’t get over the hump. There’s no need to elaborate more on that here because the past is simply the past but to put it best, it’s been a long wait.
“The hardest thing about the wait is those times being so close yet so far,” said Christian. “So close yet they just couldn’t get over the hump. It’s a relief and exciting for them to get this far.”
When asked what the turning point was for the Capitals this postseason, Malarkey believes it comes from Game 3 of the first round against the Blue Jackets.
“If we don’t get that goal in overtime and they get it, then we’re down 3-0 and that is probably it,” Malarkey said. “I think that was the key moment in the playoffs. Plus that OT goal to put Pittsburgh away. I’ve been hating them since the team came into the league. They always manage to get the upper hand on us but finally we got them.”
Rockett believes the team just simply has the power of perseverance, which she noticed in Game 3 of the Capitals’ second round series against the Penguins, in which they rallied and won on an Alex Ovechkin goal with just over a minute left.
“They just didn’t seem to have that lacklusterness, they didn’t seem to care when they were behind, they just pushed through, kept going and seeing them in these first two games against the Lightning was just incredible,” said Rockett. “They stayed on the attack, defended well and kept attacking. It’s incredible to see their energy.”
Morning skate Tuesday at Kettler presented a different feel not just for the Capitals players but for these three fans as well.
“I’ve never seen this many people at a morning skate, said Rockett. “I think they’re energized by this and people are very excited. We just want it very badly.”
Malarkey added, “”It had a good vibe. A lot of zip to it. It was business-like but it looked like they were having fun at the same time.”
While the atmosphere at a practice or morning skate is one thing, it doesn’t compare to the game atmosphere at Capital One Arena.
“I’m hoping the crowd is raucous. I plan to lose my voice and I hope other people do too,” said Christian. “Cheering the team on to victory is what I plan to do.”
Malarkey also anticipates an incredible atmosphere that this city hasn’t seen in quite some time
“It’s gonna be off the charts excitement,” added Malarkey. “I hope they channel the excitement the right way because sometimes you can get so caught up in the excitement that you can get a little distracted by it but I get a feeling from this team that they’re too locked in right now to get too distracted. It’s gonna be nuts and you just wait. If they get to the Cup, it’s gonna be even more ridiculous.”
By Michael Marzzacco