ARLINGTON, Va. -- Hockey games are obviously a lot different for Capitals players than it is for Capitals fans. When it comes to the Washington Nationals, however, the Caps are fans just like anybody else.
While the Caps are focused on the NHL season, they have also been keeping close tabs on the Nationals and their playoff run. Wilson was in the crowd at Nationals Park for Tuesday’s NLCS-clinching win.
“I was there for the first inning and it was loud, it was wild,” he said. “Balls dropping like that, it's crazy.”
It is not uncommon for local teams to support one another, but the bond between the Caps and Nationals seems to run much deeper than just geography.
“It's great,” Alex Ovechkin said. “Happy for team, for boys and for city. They fight hard and hope they going to win it all. We're going to cheer, we're going to be with them and wish them luck.”
As the Caps headed to Dallas for a quick two-game road trip early in October, all the players came to the plane wearing Nationals shirts to show their support. After each game, the team MVP is presented with a Nationals batting helmet in the locker room.
The roots of the relationship between these two teams can be traced back to their previous history of postseason failures.
A Caps team with superstar Alex Ovechkin and a loaded roster could never get past the Pittsburgh Penguins or the second round of the playoffs. The Nationals, meanwhile, suffered their own setbacks as they continually failed to advance past the NLDS despite a dominant rotation and strong lineup.
So as the Caps finally broke through in 2018 and went on a deep run, whether it was because they saw some of themselves in the Caps, it was cathartic to see a team from Washington actually win or because they just like hockey, the Nationals became the Caps’ biggest supporters.
That did not go unnoticed by the Capitals.
“You notice it for sure,” Wilson said. “I think I remember a tweet when I was in Vegas and I think [Max] Scherzer was pitching that game and he was commenting about not having to bat so he could check the score. You see that stuff, it's fun to share the times in D.C. together.”
Scherzer also took to Twitter the day after Washington won the Cup.
“Their support to us over the years has been awesome,” Wilson said. “A bunch of guys in that locker room that I have a ton of respect for.”
Of course when the Caps brought the Cup back to Washington, Nationals Park was one of their first stops. Ovechkin threw out the first pitch and the Nationals fans may have been outnumbered in their own ballpark by all the fans clad in Capitals gear.
The Caps’ win was seen as a turning point for D.C. sports, the moment the curse of Washington sports which had not seen a championship in hockey, baseball, football or basketball since 1992 was finally broken. Sure enough, the Washington Mystics won its first title in franchise history in 2019 and the Nationals are now the first baseball team from Washington to reach the World Series since 1933.
After overcoming the NLDS hump, it became impossible not to notice the similarities between the Nationals’ current run and the 2018 Caps.
“I think there's a bit of an up and down season and a group that really came together,” Wilson said. “I think you hear that out of their locker room a lot. Guys kept coming together throughout the year and wasn't always pretty and it wasn't always happy and fun, but perseverance and look where they are now. That's a special thing when a group of guys can come together and do what they've done. We had a similar thing. Each guy in the room, you wanted to win so badly for. You get a similar feeling as to how they talk about each other through the media and through what I've heard.”
“When any athletes in your town -- obviously the Mystics win a championship, the Nationals doing what they're doing, what we were able to do a couple years ago -- it just changes how everyone carries themselves around town,” Reirden said. “Sports are obviously a hobby for people to watch and a point of relaxation and it's been fun for everyone to kind of go through it. I think more importantly is probably how it's happened. It's not been a quick path and on any of our three teams involved so it's made it more special.”
But the job is not done.
The Nationals now must wait for a winner to emerge from the ALCS which currently stands with the Houston Astros leading the New York Yankees 2-1. Then it is on to the World Series.
One more series and four more wins separate the Nationals from the ultimate goal and you can bet the Caps are going to be cheering for them the whole way.
The Caps haven’t forgotten the support the Nationals gave them in the playoffs back in 2018. Now, they are ready to return the favor.
“It's a pretty cool time to be a sports fan in DC,” Wilson said. “We're just a tiny part of it, but we're taking a back seat. We're supporting them, we're hoping that they can get it done because once you get a taste of it, it's a lot of fun and they've got a bunch of great guys in that room that we're extremely happy for.”
“We D.C. family and we have to support each other,” Ovechkin said, “Doesn't matter it's Nationals, Redskins, Wizards or the Mystics. We respect everybody and we respect each team and we cheering for them.”
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