When Devante Smith-Pelly scored the third goal late in the first period of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals Monday night at Capital One Arena, it may have been the loudest I’ve ever heard the building.
I know it’s subjective, but there was a reaction — a wave of sound — that seemed to define that this unreal moment was indeed real, that the Washington Capitals were not on the wrong end of a 3-0 lead in an important postseason game.
That wave continued throughout the rest of game on the way to a 6-2 Capitals win over the Golden Knights to take a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven, with the series moving back to Las Vegas for Game 5 Thursday night.
It was like the moment when Alex Ovechkin looked up to the sky after the Capitals defeated their long-time nemesis, the Pittsburgh Penguins — a moment that was different from anything anyone had seen before.
Yes, the roar seemed to affirm, the Capitals had a 3-0 lead after two periods over the Golden Knights. In the Stanley Cup Final. That was the moment the reality of it all finally sunk in.
By the time John Carlson scored the fourth goal about five minutes into the third, fans were turning and hugging each other — sharing the moment of unreal reality.
The truth is, of course, that Washington didn’t win the Stanley Cup Monday night at home.
But in those stands at Capital One Arena — and out in the streets, where thousands more watched on big screens — it sure felt like it.
A 3-1 series lead in previous years may have elicited a nervous roar. After all, Capitals fans saw their team blow a 3-1 lead in 2015 to the New York Rangers in the 2015 Eastern Conference semifinals, and that was just the latest one in the history of this team.
But this 2018 Capitals team seems to have left history behind by beating Pittsburgh and moving on through the second round of the playoffs for the first time since the Ovechkin era — and for the first time since 1998, the last time a Capitals team reached the finals.
This Capitals team is writing a new chapter not just in hockey in this town, but in sports.
“We are trying to write our own story here,” T.J. Oshie said. “And it seems like the rest of the city is on board with us.”
If they are successful and close out this series sometime in the next three games, they will have been the first sports franchise to walk through the championship doors in Washington since the 1991 Redskins Super Bowl champions.
They will reap the rewards if they do.
If they don’t find a way to close it out … well, owner Ted Leonsis might as well just melt the ice, fold the team, and enjoy his esports championships.
Just when Vegas looked as if it might be crawling back into the game, with two third period goals, Michal Kempny made it a 5-2 game.
“That fifth goal was huge for us,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “It sort of solidified everything.”
That doesn’t happen before. None of this has happened before. And the Capital One Arena crowd felt that much of the night. They were in an unfamiliar place, and it felt so good.
⦁ Thom Loverro’s weekly “Cigars & Curveballs” podcast is available Wednesdays on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver network.