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The Capitals are going to the Stanley Cup Final. Here’s how badly D.C. deserves it.

It’s been two decades since a D.C. team has gotten this far. Now the Capitals can make even more history.

Washington Capitals v Tampa Bay Lightning - Game Seven Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The Washington Capitals have advanced to the second Stanley Cup Final in team history by beating the Tampa Bay Lightning in a conference final Game 7 on Wednesday.

To whatever extent a team’s history can bother it at this time of year, the Capitals should’ve already gotten over it by eliminating their nemesis Pittsburgh Penguins in the last round. The Capitals do not at all look like a team that’s scared off by their own past.

Capitals fans have had plenty of reason to be nervous all spring. That’s because they are D.C. sports fans, conditioned over many years to only expect playoff sadness. The Capitals’ Final appearance will be the first for the city’s most popular pro teams since their own in 1998. The intervening years brought nothing but unpleasantness in the biggest moments.

D.C.’s last championship in any professional sport came in 2004.

When D.C. United won their fourth MLS Cup.

The city’s four most popular teams — the ones in the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL — haven’t won any championships since 1991.

  • 1991: the last Super Bowl for the local NFL club, which practices in Virginia and plays its games in Maryland but is, all in all, a Greater Washington team
  • 1978: the last NBA title for the Wizards, then called the Bullets

The Nationals have never won a playoff series of any kind.

After arriving in D.C. from Montreal in 2005, the Nats had some lean years. Then they moved into a beautiful new ballpark, got Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, and started winning a bunch. (Again, this is a brief history.) But their four NLDS appearances, all since 2012, have been losses. Three of the four ended with devastating Game 5 defeats at home.

The Capitals have never won a Stanley Cup Final game.

The Red Wings swept them in 1998, their only appearance in that round. That was the last time any of the four major D.C. teams played in a league final of any sort.

Ovechkin’s first playoff series ever, in 2008, ended with the Flyers celebrating after an overtime Game 7 goal in D.C. The Penguins won two D.C. Game 7s. The Canadiens won one in a shocking upset in 2010 behind backup goalie Jaroslav Halak. The Rangers cruelly beat them in three Game 7s in four years at one point. These have not been fun years for Caps fans, but in this Game 7 against Tampa Bay, they’ve gotten over a hump.

Before the Capitals beat the Penguins in the 2018 playoffs, it had been 20 years since the area’s four biggest teams played in a conference final.

Let the Washington Post’s Dan Steinberg explain what that was like:

D.C. sports fans of a certain ilk will release one of the longest, deepest and most liberating exhalations of their lifetimes, thrilled beyond belief that one of the stupidest streaks in sports is finally over. That streak, of course, is the 20-year stretch during which the Caps, Nats, (Washington’s NFL team), and Wizards have all failed to advance to the final four of their sports, a stretch unmatched by any similar city and one that now occupies undue space inside all of our heads. I’ve been writing about this stupidest of streaks for like a quarter of my life. So have many of my colleagues, and reporters for other local outlets, and 20-somethings on Twitter, and fans trying desperately to make their non-Washington pals understand why they are the way they are. It’s the stupidest streak in sports because no one dreams of supporting a team that wins a stupid second-round series, and yet it’s become Washington’s particular obsession.

The conference-final streak is over now, obviously, and already was. It’s good to get an appearance in an overall final out of the way in the same year.

This city knows how to throw a parade. It’s thrown plenty, from presidential inaugurations to funerals to processions for a bunch of stuff. It’s about time for a sports parade.

D.C. fans deserve a Cup win as much as any group of fans could.

Now, they can watch as their team tries to win its first Stanley Cup in its 43rd season of NHL play, against a team going for the Cup in its, uh, first season of play.