Playoff Diaries: Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference Final

TAMPA, FL - MAY 23: Nicklas Backstrom #19, John Carlson #74, and Andre Burakovsky #65 of the Washington Capitals celebrate after defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-0 in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 23, 2018 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)
TAMPA, FL - MAY 23: Nicklas Backstrom #19, John Carlson #74, and Andre Burakovsky #65 of the Washington Capitals celebrate after defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-0 in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 23, 2018 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images) /

You’ve heard of food diaries, money diaries and sex diaries. Allow us to introduce FanSided’s Playoff Diaries, a series that asks fans to record the experience of playoff series in their lives — the emotions, the rationalizations, the superstitions. In this installment, a Capitals fan sees a lifelong dream realized in the Eastern Conference Final. 

Friday, May 11: Game 1

23. Final. 4. 19. 2

I watched Game 1 from a Baltimore Orioles game. With an O’s win and a Capitals win, it was probably the happiest sports night of my life. Let me walk you through my unforgettable evening.

First, Manny Machado hit a two-run home run. A few minutes later, the Capitals game finally started. I started streaming the game on my phone. My friends initially starting roasting me like I was a pig, but we quickly started watching the Caps game. When Michal Kempny scored his first-period goal, we all erupted. Everyone stared and probably judged us, but such is the life of a Capitals fan.

After Jonathan Schoop hit a double to score Mark Trumbo, my friends and I decided to go to the rooftop bar because the game was on the televisions up there. I got the notification that the first period was over just before we walked up. When I looked at the TV up there, it was 2-0. So I never got to see Ovechkin’s goal. We celebrated it.

At 9:10 p.m. ET, Manny Machado hit a grand slam immediately after my friend whined about how the Orioles were going to waste a bases loaded no outs scenario and I told him “don’t worry, Machado will homer”. Six minutes later, Jay Beagle scored to make it 3-0 Caps. Seven minutes after Beagle’s goal, Lars Eller scored. 4-0 Capitals.

After the O’s won, my friends and I huddled around my phone as we walked to a bar. We saw the score at 4-2 with under 10 minutes left. As Caps fans, we panicked. It’s natural for us to do so. However, as soon as we got to a bar with the game on, the Capitals rewarded us with an impressive effort to limit the Lightning to no other dangerous chances.

Saturday, May 12

No game today. But I just wanted to say it warms my cold, dark soul to watch Marc-Andre Fleury allow four goals. At least two of them were pretty soft.

Where was this Fleury in 2009? In 2017?

On another note, I would do illegal things to see Dustin Byfuglien in a Capitals sweater.

Sunday, May 13: Game 2

Final. 6. 19. 2. 23

Time to walk everyone through my game day superstitions. First of all, I wear my Dmitry Orlov shirsey. It’s from 2012 when he still wore 81. Secondly, I wear my Nicklas Backstrom sweater over that. The Capitals are 8-1 this postseason with that combo and I’m not changing it.

Thirdly, when I’m watching the game, there has to be a snack food next to me. Playoff hockey is stressful. Munching on food helps calm me. I went with wasabi almonds tonight. They’re delicious, by the way.

I scared my dogs (Zelda is on the right and Ginger is on the left) less than a minute in thanks to Tom Wilson’s goal. I expressed my disdain at two early questionable penalty calls (and power-play goals by the Lightning) by tossing my hat at a wall. My friend (the same one who thought the Orioles would waste a bases-loaded situation) started getting pessimistic.

But for some odd reason, I was optimistic. The Caps just took a fury of punches from the Lightning and were still standing.

I’d like to thank the Capitals for making me look smart. They owned the second period, picking up three goals. We scared my dogs once again after Lars Eller scored to give the Capitals the lead. This feat was pulled off once again after Evgeny Kuznetsov scored with seconds left in the period. Seriously, watch Kuznetsov play hockey. He’s the physical embodiment of a ray of sunshine.

Just like in Game 1, the Capitals played an outstanding third period. This isn’t the team I saw in the regular season. I never thought this year’s team was capable of this kind of run. Those kinds of runs are the most exciting.

Tuesday, May 15: Game 3

19. Final. 4. 23. 2

When the Capitals beat the Penguins in Game 6, I immediately decided I was going to go to an Eastern Conference Final game. Being a Caps fan provides me with humility. Knowing this might be my last chance to do so, I bought a ticket for $160.

Even though the Caps lost, it was still an unbelievable experience. Every hockey fan should make it a point to go to at least one Stanley Cup Playoff game. The atmosphere is awesome. The energy is high. So are the tensions. You’ll probably make friends with the people around you.

Factoring in parking, gas, food, and beverages, I spent $200 to watch the Capitals lose 4-2. And I’d happily do it again. It was worth every penny I spent. I’ll happily drop $800 to see them in a Stanley Cup Final game. Let’s hope I get the chance to do that.

Thursday, May 17: Game 4

23. 2. 19. Final. 4

This game was extremely stressful. It caused me to have flashbacks to that horrible 2010 series, during which Jaroslav Halak single-handedly created the “Alex Ovechkin is a choker” narrative. The Capitals were the more dominant team, yet couldn’t get saves or goals when they needed them. It’s frustrating to lose when you outshoot your opponent 38-20.

Now I’m starting to get worried. Where did the Capitals from Games 1 and 2 go? Are they destined to once again disappoint in the postseason? When are the Caps finally going to get some favorable bounces?

Saturday, May 19: Game 5

23. Final. 2. 19. 3

Remarkably, despite this loss, I still feel confident. Yes, the Capitals are down 3-2 in the series after being up 2-0. But throughout this postseason, this Caps team has played its best hockey when their backs have been against the wall.

Knowing how resilient this year’s Capitals team is, there’s no way they’re going down as easily as they have in the past.

The Caps fell behind 3-0 early, but they were able to make the game very close. Hopefully, this gives them something to hang their hat on and they can carry this energy and momentum into Game 6.

Monday, May 21: Game 6

0. 23. 3. 19. Final

Remember when I asked, “Where are those Capitals from Games 1 and 2?” Well, they heard me and they showed up. I nervously watched and, though I started getting concerned with the Caps not scoring early, they quieted my fears. Specifically, T.J. Oshie did with a power-play goal.

Throughout this series, the Caps have struggled against the Lightning’s power play. For the first time in a while, the Capitals made their power play look powerless. Devante Smith-Pelly, who is one of my favorite players for a variety of reasons, gave the Caps a much-needed insurance goal. I scared my dogs again after that one.

The Capitals and Game 7 go together like Diet Coke and Mentos. For the first time that I can remember, I feel remarkably confident going into one.

Wednesday, May 23: Game 7

Final. 0. 23. 4. 19

I broke my foot the day before Game 7, so I was forced to watch Game 7 from my bed.

Game 7 is about the most stressful thing in sports, even if you have no rooting interest. When you do, it’s like waiting for Christmas. Are you going to get that X-Box One you hoped for? Or are you going to get coal?

Anyone who knows Alex Ovechkin knew he was going to be a huge factor. He scored just over a minute into the game. My dogs were downstairs and they were still frightened by my victory screech. The Lightning didn’t go away quietly. In fact, they dominated most of the first two periods. That is, until the Capitals finally got a good bounce!

An errant clear bounced off of Lightning defenseman Dan Girardi and directly to Andre Burakovsky, who picked up one of the easiest goals he’ll ever score. When’s the last time the Capitals have gotten a bounce like that?!

Not only that, Burakovsky scored again. Yes, the guy who I was most worried about for his lack of production scored twice in a Game 7. Folks, this sums up why we’re all dumb and don’t know anything about hockey.

It feels great to see Ovechkin finally make it to the Stanley Cup Final. They’ve slain three of their biggest playoff dragons — the Penguins, the Lightning, and a Game 7. Now the Capitals must find a way to beat the final boss — Marc-Andre Fleury. The Caps have already gotten this far, so why can’t they keep going?

Next: 10 reasons Stanley Cup Playoffs are better than NBA Playoffs

Just think, this was the year the Capitals were supposed to be bad. Having two of the best regular-season teams in NHL history didn’t get the Caps to the Stanley Cup Final. Hockey’s weird. But this is why I love it so much.