Well everyone, they did it. The Capitals won the Stanley Cup. They reached the top of the mountain. It took 44 long years, but all the disappointing finishes, all the heartbreak, it was all worth it. Because in the end, they finally got the Cup.

If this were a movie, it would have ended by now. After the on-ice celebrations and maybe even the parade, the screen would have faded to black. The happy ending achieved, the story over.

But that’s not the way it works in real life.

In real life, the story doesn’t actually end when a team wins the championship. Time inevitably rolls along and brings with it a new season. It seems like just yesterday the team was on the ice hoisting the Cup and celebrating, but in reality the Caps have already gone from champion to defending champion. They no longer stand alone atop the league. The standings are back to zero and everyone must start over.

The challenge is different now for the Capitals who are no longer seeking their first title. This year, the task will be to defend it and win a second.

And as a fan, it’s hard to know how to feel.

For many years, it was Stanley Cup or bust in Washington. They had the talent to go all the way and that made every loss feel all the more gut-wrenching. A lot of fans out there, myself included, began to doubt. The best years of Alex Ovechkin had come and gone. If the Caps couldn’t win with one of the greatest to ever play the game, would we ever see the Cup in Washington? Would we have to sit through another lengthy rebuild just to get another shot?

 

Now that’s all changed.

This is new territory for the Capitals who, for the first time, will be defending a championship. And this is new for the fans too.

For fans of a certain age, you’ve been waiting 26 years to see a championship come to D.C. Now there’s an entire generation of Washington fans who have never seen this city win a championship before.

When the banner is raised to the rafters on Wednesday, the celebration will finally be over and the prevailing feeling among many fans will be, now what?

Let’s be clear, we all want Washington to win another Cup this year. No one is going into this season thinking, “It’s OK if the Caps miss the playoffs. Who cares? They already won!”

But while we all want to see Washington go all the way, this season still feels different.

You know what I felt the most when the clock finally hit 00:00 in Game 5? Relief.

Sure, I was happy. Ecstatic, actually. As someone who has followed this team my entire life, winning the Cup and watching the celebrations all summer has been everything I hoped it would be. But in all those past years with every heartbreaking loss, that the voice in the back of your head just kept getting louder and louder ever year and kept asking are they ever going to do it? Will they ever win the Cup?

That voice has finally been silenced.

Winning the Cup is hard. Thirty teams are going to walk away from this season disappointed and only one will come out on top. I would love for it to be the Capitals again and there are a lot of reasons to believe that they could actually pull off the repeat.

If they don’t, I’ll be disappointed, but it won’t feel like before. Gone is that cloud that forever hung above the franchise. They won a Cup. The names have been engraved on it and the banner will be raised at Wednesday’s opener. There are going to be years in which the Caps come up short, but instead of assuming the worst and wondering when this team will ever win a Cup, now we can just cheer on the Caps knowing they‘ve done it before and in the hopes they we can see them hoist it again.

They did it. They brought the Cup to Washington and no one can ever take it away from us.


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