DC sports fans waited nearly 20 years for one of their teams to even make a Conference Finals. Now, for the fourth time in two years, they will watch one of their teams compete for a championship. The Washington Mystics and Washington Capitals have each fulfilled their destiny, and it’s time to see if the Washington Nationals can follow suit.
Comparing the Nationals and Capitals is nothing new. Both constantly have championship aspirations, boast transcending superstars, and for the past decade or so have gone back and forth trying to one-up each too see who can have the most heartbreaking playoff exit.
Throughout the Alex Ovechkin era, the Capitals failed to get past the second round in their first nine playoff appearances – despite winning the President’s Trophy three separate times during that span.
Since returning to DC in 2005, the Nationals won the NL East four times yet failed to advance past the NLDS every time – with each Game 5 loss seemingly more devastating than the last.
However that all changed during the illustrious spring of 2018 where Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom, and company exorcised their demons en route to winning the Stanley Cup. And as the Nationals gear up to play in their first-ever World Series on Tuesday, the connections these two magical runs have are uncanny.
When the Capitals went down 2-0 to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round of the 2018 playoffs, there was a universal feeling of “here we go again,” among a disappointed fanbase angry for convincing themselves this year would be different. Many of those same feelings arose for fans when they watched the Milwaukee Brewers jump out to a 3-0 lead over the Nationals in the second inning of the 2019 wildcard game. But with a dramatic bases-clearing double, Juan Soto (Evgeny Kuznetsov, anyone?) sent the Nationals to the NLDS to face perennial contenders the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Soto’s crucial hit brought back memories of Kuzy sending the Capitals through to the Eastern Conference Finals on a breakaway goal assisted by Ovechkin. One could say that Soto was assisted by Rendon’s intentional walk– and each of these comparisons hold when brought to the lift: Soto/Kuzy as the young gun and Ovi/Rendon as the superstar.
The Nationals were able to take down the Dodgers and their Crosby-resembling aging star, Clayton Kershaw in five games with another dramatic ending, this time with grizzled veteran (Nicklas Backstrom?) sending the team to the NLCS on a series-clinching grand slam in the top of the 10th inning. Kershaw’s failure, giving up back-to-back home runs in the 7th inning, proved to be fatal, and the Nationals ended their streak of losses in Game 5s.
Once the demons had been exorcised, each team really heated up in their Conference/League Finals. The Capitals cruised through the Lightning after dropping Game 1, but the Nationals completely steamrolled the Cardinals, utilizing star pitching and a combustive offense that proved far too much to handle.
Now, the Nationals will face the Houston Astros and their superstar pitching staff, just how the Capitals did against Marc-Andre Fleury and the Vegas Knights. Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole have been lights-out this postseason, and if Zach Greinke can return to form, the Nationals have a tough test ahead of them.
But this is nothing compared to what the Nationals have done all season. From being the team to score the most runs in baseball in the 8th or 9th inning, to having one of the best pitching staffs in the entire MLB, the Nationals are as ready as ever to take on the team that has been hailed as “The Greatest Team Ever Seen.”
We’ve seen the Capitals, Mystics, and Washington Wizards, as well as an increasingly rowdy and fun fanbase, support the Nats throughout the season, and now it’s time for the boys to bring back some hardware, and parade down Constitution Ave.