- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 24, 2018

Usman Altafullah couldn’t help it: He wept, and the man next to him gave him a hug. They didn’t know each other — and it didn’t matter.

Altafullah, a 31-year-old cybersecurity manager from Rosslyn, Virginia, wiped away tears and looked at the jumbotron. He couldn’t believe it: Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals were headed to the Stanley Cup Final. He cheered at the top of his lungs.

Around the District, there are plenty of fans like Altafullah — ecstatic that the Capitals earned their first finals appearance in 20 years with a 4-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

He was also one of nearly 11,000 to show up to the Capitals‘ viewing party Wednesday at Capital One Arena to watch the game taking place in Tampa.

“There’s no words, man,” said Mr. Altafullah, decked out in an Ovechkin jersey. “There’s no words. This is what it’s about! Ovi deserves this. Our team, our city.”

After the win, fans went outside and lined the steps of the National Portrait Gallery, chanting “D.C., D.C., D.C.” and “We want the Cup! We want the Cup!” Others — who perhaps had too much alcohol in them — climbed trees and street poles nearby.

The Capitals, four wins away from the Stanley Cup, and the Vegas Golden Knights kick off their best-of-seven Monday night with the first of two games in Nevada, before returning to the District for Game 3 the following Saturday, June 2, and Game 4, two days later.

The Capitals were off Thursday after arriving early in the morning. They will have practice Saturday before flying to Vegas later that day.

Game 7 was most-watched hockey game ever for NBC Sports in the District, earning an average household rating of 12.6. That number shattered the previous record of 8.63, set in 2012 for Game 6 against the Boston Bruins.

And those numbers don’t even include the thousands who crowded into District bars and eateries to watch, like 24-year-old Maddy Williams.

Ms. Williams, who said she’s been a Capitals fan for as long as she can remember, took an uber at the conclusion of the game to the National Portrait Gallery steps.

“This could be a once in a lifetime opportunity,” she said. “Obviously we’re here to make the most of it. We’re out here to celebrate. … There’s never been a feeling like this.”

Inside the arena, raucous fans held custom made signs and waved complementary red rally towels throughout the night. After going up 2-0, a small group of confident Capitals fans unleashed a “We want Vegas!” chant.

Dave Wiseman, a 57-year-old from Leesburg, said this year’s Capitals have already exceeded his expectations — but still he wants more.

“When you listen to sports radio, you hear the choking stuff — to me, this team has overachieved,” Wiseman said. “To me, this is all gravy … but you get greedy. You want to get to the final series.”

The Capitals are there now.

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