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Pittsburgh Penguins v Washington Capitals – Game Seven
Goalie Braden Holtby #70 of the Washington Capitals looks on after giving up a third period goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Verizon Center on May 10, 2017 in Washington, DC. Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Being a D.C. sports fan on the city’s biggest night of the year

Once again, fans are put through another painful episode of ‘Groundhog Day’

For 25 years, Washington, D.C., sports fans have felt like the odds never seem to be in their favor. Case in point, these fans found themselves in a situation where their beloved Nationals, Capitals and Wizards were all playing on the same day and all starting within an hour (7:05 p.m., 7:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.) of one another.

If that wasn’t stressful enough, here’s what was on the line Wednesday night:

  • The Capitals were at home in Game 7 of the NHL’s Eastern Conference semifinals trying to avenge last season’s loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the same round. Washington would have played in its first Eastern Conference final in almost two decades (1998) with a victory. (The Penguins defeated the Capitals 2-0 to advance to the Eastern Conference final.)
  • John Wall, Bradley Beal and company were in Boston for Game 5 of the NBA’s Eastern Conference semifinals. The Wiz haven’t played in a conference championship in slightly less than four decades (1979), and a win in Boston would have given them a 3-2 lead with a chance to advance to the third round in the comfy confines of the Verizon Center. (The Wiz now trail the Celtics, 3-2, in the series after losing 123-101.)
  • The Nationals were the only team not playing in the postseason, although the Beltway Series is no joke to fans in these parts. Beating the Baltimore Orioles, who play 45 minutes up the road from the nation’s capital, is always fun for bragging rights. (The Nationals were the lone team from the city to win, rallying against the Orioles in a 7-6 victory at Nationals Park.)

You get the picture — it was a big night for D.C. sports fans. But who exactly hurt these folks so bad that they were anxious a whole 12 (possibly 24) hours ahead of game time? Well, their favorite teams. The last team to bring home the chip was the Washington football team in 1992. But since then, there has been no new hardware among the Major Four.

Brian Dumoulin and Ron Hainsey of the Pittsburgh Penguins go after the puck against Justin Williams (No. 14) of the Washington Capitals in the third period of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference second round during the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs at Verizon Center on May 10 in Washington, D.C.

Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Since the Capitals were swept by the Detroit Red Wings in their only Stanley Cup finals appearance in 1998, the team has had 18 seasons to get back to the championship series. They missed the playoffs six times and have played in six quarterfinals and six semifinals. The 2004-05 season was wiped out by the lockout.

In the past two seasons, the Capitals won the Presidents’ Trophy, awarded to the team with the best-regular season record, only to be knocked out in the semifinals. Caps fans fear Alex Ovechkin, one of the best players to ever grace the ice, will go into the Hall of Fame having never led a team to the conference championship.

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (right) fights his way through the defense of the Wizards’ Kelly Oubre Jr. in the first half. The Boston Celtics hosted the Washington Wizards in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at TD Garden in Boston on May 10.

Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The Wizards lost in the first round 10 times in the past 38 years. Five times during that period, the exit occurred in the second round, and in the other 23 years the team didn’t qualify for the postseason. While the villain has been different each of the past two times the Wiz were knocked out (Indiana Pacers and Atlanta Hawks), the results were similar. Washington needs a victory in Friday’s Game 6 to avoid losing its third straight semifinal series 4-2.

Matt Wieters of the Washington Nationals is swarmed by his teammates after hitting a walk-off two-run RBI single during the ninth inning to defeat the Baltimore Orioles 7-6 at Nationals Park on May 10 in Washington, D.C.

Matt Hazlett/Getty Images

And whenever the Nationals have the best record in baseball (which is essentially every other year), they get knocked out of the playoffs in the first round, typically pushing the games to do-or-die, like the Capitals.

One of the worst episodes in D.C. sports history has to be the 2012 NL Division Series, when the Nationals welcomed the St. Louis Cardinals for Game 5. Any sports fan’s stomach would have fallen to the floor witnessing the Nationals give up a 7-3 lead — at home — in the top of the seventh. Leading 7-5 with two outs and a full count against Yadier Molina, Drew Storen walked him in the ninth inning. Back-to-back singles helped put the Cardinals ahead to stay, 9-7.

Going into Wednesday, the team from Charm City held a 2-0 series lead, beating the Nats in back-to-back games at Camden Yards. The Birds traveled down I-95 and were on the verge of going for the three-peat until Matt “Hello, darkness, my old friend” Wieters hit a two-run single in the bottom of the ninth against his former squad.

So Washington didn’t strike out completely — pun absolutely intended — Wednesday night. But, being realistic: A regular-season win on a night in which both of the teams playing in the postseason lost just doesn’t stack up.

A whole generation of fans in this city has never experienced a championship team. And it’s hard to see people be so jaded, so young. But going into a night like Wednesday, anything was possible, and even the most bitter D.C. sports fan allowed a ray of optimism to peek in.

Emotions ran the gamut — jittery, anxious, excited, confident, fatigued, angry — and eventually the Capitals and Wizards checked their fans into the five-star Heartbreak Hotel.

May 8:

Take it from a Maryland fan: Burning things doesn’t really pan out all that great — especially if you need said burned-down venue for the other playoff team in town. Yeah, you really want to save that excitement for later in the postseason.

May 9:

If you believe in talking things into existence, then D.C. sports fans were doing a pretty good job of it Tuesday leading into the games. You may also subscribe to expecting the worse and hoping for the best, so the sting of defeat isn’t so great or so the satisfaction of victory remains pure. There’s no one right way to deal with your expectations for your team.

May 10:

The big day arrived. If all went well, it would feel like Christmas in the nation’s capital. If it didn’t, it would feel like ripping a Band-Aid off super prematurely and only making the injury worse.

You could cut the tension in the proverbial social media air with a butcher knife if you felt so inclined.

A prayer circle was formed by the professional and collegiate teams in the area to send well wishes and good vibes.


The postmortem:

Unfortunately for D.C. sports fans, the day after has not proved to be any better. As they are well aware, to the winner goes the spoils, and in this case the winner is social media, which is simply ruthless in situations like these.

Rhiannon Walker is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a drinker of Sassy Cow Creamery chocolate milk, an owner of an extensive Disney VHS collection, and she might have a heart attack if Frank Ocean doesn't drop his second album.