WASHINGTON (AP) — There they were, right in the front row, wearing red hockey jerseys, pounding on the glass just like any fan might, and urging other spectators to cheer loudly for the NHL’s Capitals in Game 7: Paul Pierce and a trio of other players from the NBA’s Wizards.
And a night after winning their first-round series in the same arena — via a sweep, no less — Washington’s professional basketball players watched the city’s professional hockey players get past the New York Islanders 2-1 to advance to the second round, too.
It’s the first time that the NHL and NBA teams in the nation’s capital both have won a postseason series in the same year, according to STATS.
And Capitals coach Barry Trotz found some significance in that.
“This is a new group. We always look at the past. I think what we need to do in Washington, D.C., sports … (is) have positive attitudes. Not that old stuff. This is a new era for basketball and hockey. And the baseball team. And we’ll get that football team straightened away. And we’ll go from there,” Trotz said, mentioning that he noticed Pierce, John Wall, Marcin Gortat and Rasual Butler sitting not far from his bench on Monday night.
“It’s going to be contagious, I’m telling you,” he proclaimed.
The histories of both teams — now both owned by Ted Leonsis — are filled with failures in the postseason, particularly in recent times.
Since Alex Ovechkin joined the Capitals, they were only 2-5 in Game 7s entering Monday, including 1-4 at home. That includes Game 7 eliminations in 2012 and 2013 against the New York Rangers, the Presidents’ Cup-winning team that Washington will now face in the second round, starting later this week.
The Wizards, meanwhile, had never swept a best-of-seven series until doing so Sunday night, when they finished off the Toronto Raptors 125-94. And this is the first time since the 1978 and 1979 seasons that Washington had reached the second round of the NBA playoffs in consecutive years.
Capitals forward Joel Ward, who grew up in Canada, watched Game 4 on Sunday and found it uplifting.
“It was actually inspirational how they played, especially yesterday, and how they really capped (it) off and, you know, we really wanted to do that, too,” said Ward, who scored Washington’s opening goal Monday, before rookie Evgeny Kuznetsov netted the winner with less than 7 1/2 minutes left in the third period.
“When you’ve got a team on the brink of it you want to really take them out,” Ward continued, “and I thought they showed a good example of that.”
Here’s the thing about the playoffs: Even when you manage to set aside your franchise’s past demons and come through in a win-or-go-home game, as Ward and the Capitals did, there is only so much time that can be spent enjoying the euphoria.
Because there’s another opponent to start worrying about.
Asked late Monday night when he would turn his attention to the Rangers, Trotz replied: “Probably in about 35 minutes.”
Ward didn’t allot much more than that.
He said he would relish getting past the Islanders “`til 6 or 7 in the morning … until you wake up and the schedule comes out.”
“And then you’re back at it. It’s a cool feeling for us right now. It was a lot of hard work,” he added. “We know there’s not a lot of time, so we’ve got to get back on the horse.”