The sun set on the 2014 Washington sports scene with the comedic stylings of Washington Redskins president and general manager Bruce Allen, delivering a message that redefined hopelessness in this town.
But then the sun rose on the first day of 2015 — and it was a bright sun, a signal of a new dawn in Washington sports thanks to the Washington Capitals, delivering a message that redefined hope in this town.
What a difference a year can make.
On a glorious day at Nationals Park, with more than 42,000 people watching from the stands, the Capitals and the Chicago Blackhawks played a classic Winter Classic, ending with a game-winning goal by Troy Brouwer with 12.9 seconds left for a 3-2 victory.
It was just one of 82 regular season games, worth two points to the Capitals in the standings. But it seemed like so much more — even beyond all the pomp and circumstances that surrounded the New Year’s Day Winter Classic.
It had the feel that something special is starting to snowball in Washington — and not the cotton-like fake snow on the field at Nationals Park.
It felt like the non-Redskins portion of the sports calendar here could be more than just a distraction. It could be a celebration.
Lord knows Washington fans deserve one.
The Capitals have been gaining momentum for the past month under new coach Barry Trotz. Chicago coach Joel Quenneville saw the Capitals in November, and said Thursday following Washington’s Winter Classic performance that “they’ve definitely improved. They’ve got four lines, they can keep the pace of their game, and they check pretty hard and pretty well. They look like they have got a good balance.”
That confirms what St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock told someone in the Capitals organization privately after his Blues squad defeated Washington 4-1 in mid-November. “That team is going to look a lot different by the end of December,” Hitchcock said.
They do, having gone 6-1-3 over their last 10 games, with a 19-11-7 record and 45 points, good for third in the Metropolitan Division.
We’ve seen Capitals glory before, though, and it always ends in disappointment. This euphoria goes beyond the ice, though.
The Wizards are off to their best start in franchise history, with a 22-9 record, and now look like a legitimate if not a favorite to win the NBA Eastern Conference and make it to their first NBA finals since 1979.
Maryland men’s basketball — coming off a gut-check double overtime win over Michigan State in East Lansing — are ranked 12th in the nation, their highest ranking since 2004. The Terps are 13-1, with their only loss coming from third-ranked Virginia, and that happened with an injured Dez Wells out of the lineup.
Georgetown men’s basketball is still finding its way with an 8-4 record, coming off a loss to Xavier in their Big East opener, but figure to be a top 25 team. But George Washington upset 11th-ranked Wichita State on Christmas Day, and with a 10-3 record, figure to contend for the Atlantic 10 title. Then there are the permanent tenants of Nationals Park — the baseball team. The wounds are still tender from their disappointing exit in four game to the San Francisco Giants in the National League Division Series. But they are expected to be right back there in the postseason mix come October currently the odds-on favorite, at 7-1, along with the Los Angeles Dodgers, to win the 2015 World Series.
Add in all the off-the-field winning the Redskins do, and it seems like good times and sunshine.
Maybe all this optimism is the residue of what was a great event Thursday at Nationals Park. How great was it? Here’s how Trotz opened his post-game press conference: “I’ve got the first question. Did anybody have any fun? Yeah, I’m having a lot of fun right now.”
Fun — 24 hours earlier, watching, listening, or reading about Bruce Allen’s state of the Redskins address, fun wasn’t on the minds of sports fans in this town. Despair, yes. Depression, absolutely.
But then the sun rose on the first day of year 2015, and with it came a healthy dose of fun.
“The whole day was unbelievable,” said Alex Ovechkin, who scored one of the three goals in the Capitals’ win. “It was outstanding.”
• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.