The sound of a marching band’s percussion section tells you that you are approaching the Verizon Center (Yeah, no one called it Capital One Arena yet). You’d think there are more obvious ways to find your way to a playoff game, but this playoff series didn’t have a typical vibe in DC. The tickets for Game 2 had come cheaper than a pair of tickets to a regular season tilt between the Blue Jackets and the Capitals.
The sea of red wasn’t flowing in one direction as Capitals fans seemed to be interested in entering any establishment except the arena. Ovechkins and Kolzigs entering bars; Wilsons and Bondras chowing down at fast food joints. Even a Jagr idly standing by a bus stop. So, I followed the sound of drumming. It was energetic and catchy. Smooth enough to make you appreciate the skill with which 3 men made music on various buckets and hardware store containers.
As the wife and I entered the Arena, I kept looking around for CBJ-clad fans. In a bout of nervousness, I had donned minimal gear – a knit cap that I kept off during the game. It was always a treat to catch a CBJ jersey in the crowd during the regular season as it was so rare. But, as if to match the rest of the strangeness to this game, there was no shortage that night! Atkinsons and Bobs. Dubis and Fligs. Rusty Klesla made an appearance because why not? Two geeked out CBJ fans rushed to two men in suits and asked for a picture – ‘Yeah, that’s McConnell!’
As we got to our seats, the vibe started to change again. Whatever aimless activities the fans were doing outside the arena, inside it was getting loud and focused. Our seats were appropriately in the nosebleeds – our backs almost against the wall in a way that only stiner can truly appreciate. The arena was filling – though it never completely filled up – the noise was ratcheting up. The anthem was sung – and I groused at DC fans yelling ‘O’ and ‘Red’ during the singing.
And then the game started… and the team went down a goal quickly. The Jackets had no energy and then they forgot about Alex Ovechkin. 2-0. Then in the blink of an eye, a beauty of a stretch pass – a weapon all season for the Jackets – finds Cam who slides the rubber through a gap the size of the puck between Grubi’s skate and the post. The Caps fan to my left grumbles that this always happens to them…and I found myself agreeing. Yeah. It does always happen to the Caps. I was starting to feel confident.
Then the team forgot Ovie again…and it didn’t seem to matter. Andy, Cam, and Z made sure that the CBJ won the 2nd period.
The third period was 20 minutes of nervous, anxious pain. I remember none of it.
Overtime – it had to be in overtime. One shot after the other, one chance after the other – making sure that my heart rate kept up the pace. And then…silence.
I didn’t, I couldn’t, see the goal. My seats were as far from Grubauer as they could be. I saw a pass go to Z, I saw a shot… then just a sigh. Not even a loud groan. Just a sigh. Play had stopped.
Did the net go off its moorings…is that a small hockey player jumping? “Did that go in?” screamed the Caps fan to my left. I was stunned…but the drunk CBJ fans in the next section over confirmed it for everyone.
This was actually happening. CBJ fans heckling Caps fans…in DC. A 2-0 lead. Matt Calvert the playoff hero, almost making me forget his lapse against the Pens the prior year. This was a strange night. It was a pretty nice birthday present.