Davey Martinez, as he has done every time for the last month he’s met with reporters on the same day the Capitals have been in a Stanley Cup Playoffs game, walked into the press conference room at Nationals Park on Wednesday afternoon wearing his custom-made No. 4 Caps jersey and cap.
Asked for a prediction for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Nationals manager offered a confident reply.
“Caps are going to have a big game, 4-1,” Martinez said. “How about that? I’m throwing that out there. It just came to me.”
Well, Martinez was wrong. The Caps didn’t win 4-1. They won 4-0. And now they’re going to play in the Stanley Cup Final.
Martinez has been paying very close attention to the Capitals’ entire postseason run, and if you think he’s just trying to suck up to local sports fans, you don’t realize how legitimately into hockey he is. Yes, he makes his offseason home near Tampa and has followed the Lightning for many years. But he has fully embraced the Caps this spring, showing up at an early-round playoff game and texting back and forth with coach Barry Trotz.
Many Nationals players likewise have bought in and become Capitals fans, so much so that they were crushed to realize they were going to be stuck on a flight to Miami for the majority of Wednesday night’s game, left to try to follow along via Twitter updates from folks on the ground in D.C. and Tampa.
“On the flight to Miami but don’t think we weren’t following!!! Caps baby!!!! #ALLCAPS” tweeted reliever Sammy Solís after Game 7 ended.
There are a few exceptions, and one really notable one: Bryce Harper, Las Vegas native and legitimately die-hard Golden Knights fan from the get-go last fall. Harper has had his custom-made Vegas jersey hanging by his locker ever since that expansion team shockingly clinched the Western Conference title last week, and earlier this month he openly dreamed of the possibility of a Las Vegas-Washington matchup for all the marbles.
“Could you imagine a @GoldenKnights vs. @Capitals Stanley Cup? #Epic” Harper tweeted on May 1.
Well, yes, we can imagine it now, Bryce. Game 1 is Monday night in Las Vegas. Game 4 in June 4 at Capital One Arena, an off-day for the Nationals. You better believe there’s going to be a group of them attending that game.
Washington at times can feel like a disjointed sports town. Fans of one team aren’t automatically fans of the other teams, at least not as routinely as they seem to be in other cities. But the Nats-Caps connection is strong.
Mark Lerner has a minority stake in Ted Leonsis’ ownership group, so there is a real financial connection between the two franchises. But the connection seems to be strong among many fans as well. Perhaps the two organizations’ shared postseason misery over the last decade helps create a sense of commonality.
Well, the Caps just exorcised a bunch of playoff demons in impressive fashion. They were down 2-0 to the Blue Jackets in the first round, then won four in a row. They toppled their biggest nemesis and beat the Penguins in six games to advance to the Eastern Conference Final for the first time in 20 years. And now they dominated the Lightning in Game 6 and 7, proving they could finish off a playoff series in sparkling fashion and reach their first Stanley Cup Final in two decades.
Which brings us back to Martinez’s pregame media session Wednesday. After making his bold Game 7 prediction, he was asked if he thought the Capitals would break their longtime curse.
“I think so,” he said. “Remember the camels.”
Wait, the appearance of two camels at spring training in West Palm Beach was meant not only for the Nationals but for the Capitals, too?
“That was for the whole city,” Martinez said.
Well, the Caps got over the hump. We’ll just have to wait another five months to find out if the Nats can do likewise and make this a truly memorable sports year in D.C.