Why Capitals fans gather, celebrate on National Portrait Gallery steps

Kyle Bukauskas and Chris Johnston spoke about how the Washington Capitals took advantage of small chances to take a 3-1 lead over the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Finals.

It’s been a place of celebration for a few years, but not always for the Washington Capitals.

Fans of Canadian teams may be familiar with post-game celebrations breaking out in Maple Leaf Square, down the Red Mile in Calgary or Edmonton’s Whyte Avenue — this post-season Winnipeggers came out in droves at Portage and Main.

Washington has had its own version of this in the playoffs, with fans crowding the streets outside Capital One Arena. When the Caps win, you’ve probably seen video of fans cramming the steps of the National Portrait Gallery and going bonkers.

But why is this their place of choice? There’s a very good reason for it.

For years through the Crosby-Ovechkin era, Washington has been dominated by the rival Pittsburgh Penguins when it’s mattered most. Prior to this season the two teams had met three times in the post-season with the two stars on the roster and Pittsburgh won each time. This is the origin of the significance of the steps.

After winning on the road, in the regular season or post-season, Penguins fans would gather on the steps and cheer loudly in support of their team as downtrodden Caps fans walked by. It was a bit of a sore spot that opposing fans could convene and rub their success in the face of the home side so brazenly and for so long. Gathering on the National Portrait Gallery steps was a tradition for Penguins fans before it was for Capitals fans. Here’s how it looked after the Penguins eliminated the Caps in Game 7 of last year’s playoffs.

But the tradition has changed in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It really began after Washington’s Game 5 win against Pittsburgh on home ice in Round 2, which gave the Caps a 3-2 series lead. That initial celebration wasn’t as big as the ones that followed, but it was the start of a movement.

The Caps, of course, won Game 6 against Pittsburgh to finally knock off their rivals, and ever since the steps have been a major rallying point. Located a block away from Capital One Arena, the Gallery steps have hosted concerts and watch parties and after wins Caps fans make a point of getting up there and singing/chanting at the tops of their lungs.

Now one win away from winning the Stanley Cup, Caps fans are bracing for their biggest celebration yet on former Penguins territory.

And you can bet the Stanley Cup would end up making a trip there, too.

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