WASHINGTON — No. Stop.
Really, stop. You’re doing it again. You’re doing that thing that D.C. sports fans do — in a way that other cities’ sports fans do not do — where you make every last little thing into the most important thing that has ever happened. Don’t.
As you probably know, the Washington Capitals play a VERY IMPORTANT GAME Wednesday night, at the same time the Washington Wizards will be playing a FAIRLY IMPORTANT GAME, all while the Nationals play an ALMOST MEANINGLESS GAME THAT WE INSIST ASSIGNING MEANING TO ANYWAY. These three things do not combine together to form some sort of D.C. sports Voltron. This is all hyperbole to assign outsized meaning to two second-round playoff games and a regular-season May (!) baseball game.
In the best-case scenario, Washington fans will enjoy three wins, all finishing within about an hour of one another, possibly much closer than that. The worst-case scenario leaves the Caps eliminated, the Wizards pushed to the brink, and, well, a regular-season baseball result. The most likely outcome, though, lies somewhere in between — in which case the Caps result would be the only truly meaningful one — which unearths the reality of the situation.
There is only one game Wednesday night that really matters: the one on the Verizon Center ice. You can assign it grander meaning than what it deserves, but I encourage you not to do so. I’d make the argument that the insistence of making every round of every playoff series (with two still to go!) some life-or-death proposition has only added to the self-imposed pressure Washington teams seem to fold underneath. So, stop doing that.
Really for the first time in their series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Caps have skated free and easy since breaking through in the third period of Game 5. The opening goal of Game 6 was a clinical power play, and Washington was in control throughout en route to scoring the game’s first five goals. If those freewheeling Caps show up Wednesday night, they’ll be just fine.
If they do advance, the Caps will be the first Washington Big Four professional sports team to make their respective conference final since 1998. They will be the favorites to win the Stanley Cup. These are not small things, and it’s understandable for the fan base to label this particular game as a crossroads of sorts for a franchise likely to face some measure of a rebuild this offseason. It’s a big game, yes, but just one game.
“But, the Wizards!” you are already scrambling to reply. Yes, well …
Teams leading 3-2 in best-of-seven series across American professional sports go on to win the series nearly 80 percent of the time. That makes their game Wednesday relevant. But even if the Wizards win Game 5 and go on to advance, they’ll have to beat the thus-far-undefeated-in-the-playoffs Cavs, then (probably) somehow find a way to beat the also-undefeated-in-the-playoffs Warriors to win the NBA title. Right now, FiveThirtyEight gives them a 2 percent chance of taking it all.
This isn’t to say it’s not a meaningful game, but to place it in the same conversation as the contest the Caps are playing is unsagacious. All of that is to say nothing of the fabricated, half-rivalry between the Nationals and Orioles that contains not a vial of bad blood — anyone see the warm reception Matt Wieters got Monday night in Baltimore? So excuse me if I have trouble getting fired up for the pitcher’s duel between Stephen Strasburg and … (checks probable pitchers), um, Wade Miley.
The obsession with trying to rank where the day fits into the history of big sports days in the city’s history only distracts us from what promises to be one great, potentially historic game. It may seem like the league schedule-makers are doing this by design. In a sense, they are, but not for any Washington-related reasons, just national television reasons that have nothing to do with D.C. teams. Nobody intentionally arranged any of this. It’s just the way things turned out.
As we discussed last week, there are no curses — only narratives that you can choose to construct and perpetuate. Last week, the Caps needed to win one game, three times in a row. Now, it’s just one game.
Coming into this postseason, they’d won just five of 20 potential closeout games. This year, they’re one-for-one.
The Caps were just 1-6 in Game 6’s in which they held a 3-2 lead before these playoffs. This year, they’re 1-0.
And, of course, there’s this.
Penguins 5-0 ROAD record in Game 7s is the best in NHL, NBA or MLB postseason history
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 9, 2017
The Caps are just 1-8 against the Penguins in nine playoff series. The Penguins have won all three Game 7 matchups in those series. And Wednesday’s Game 7 will be a year to the day from last year’s elimination, in overtime, at the hands of the very same Penguins.
All of this is true, and none of it matters, just like it doesn’t matter that there’s a Wizards or a Nats game happening simultaneously. There is just one game Wednesday that gives a team that hasn’t advanced to a conference final in a long time the chance to do so, which would be a cool thing that all of us (outside of western Pennsylvania) could enjoy. But even if they do, that will only be one step in bringing a championship to D.C.
So, seriously, relax. Stop making this more than it is and just enjoy. There’s a game to watch.