A trip to meet the Washington Capitals is hard enough on a normal game night.
The fans "Rock the Red" in Capital One Arena, the term used for everyone being dressed in the team color. "The Horn Guy" sits near the press box blowing away to get fans into the "Let's Go Caps" chant. There's a buzz from the opening faceoff that never stops and it's been like that for many years, heightened even more by the team's 2018 Stanley Cup championship.
But what the Buffalo Sabres might find Friday night will be far above a normal regular-season visit. The Washington Nationals, who were hugely behind the Caps during the Cup run, are the talk of the town now after their stunning World Series win in Game 7 Wednesday night in Houston.
The Caps watched Game 7 at their team Halloween party and Alex Ovechkin went live on Instagram for the final out, showing the Caps' celebratory champagne sprays after Nats reliever Daniel Hudson struck out Houston's Michael Brantley to wrap up the first title in franchise history.
Here are the Capitals the moment the Nationals won the World Series. pic.twitter.com/3NO1zh92Lr
— Samantha Pell (@SamanthaJPell) October 31, 2019
Forward T.J. Oshie then took to Twitter, pointing the Nationals to the locales of the Georgetown fountains in which the Caps famously cavorted, much to the delight of iPhone-toting fans when they returned home from their Cup clincher in Las Vegas 16 months ago.
Washington is planning the Nats' victory parade for Saturday morning. There's probably going to be Nats players in the house for the Sabres' visit. They might have the World Series trophy with them. The crowd will be in an uproar. And Caps players will certainly be stoked by the success of the baseball team, many of whom have become their friends.
"We were just talking about that in here, that it's definitely not going to make the environment any easier to play in in what's always a tough place to go play," a smiling Sabres center Jack Eichel said after practice Thursday in LECOM Harborcenter. "I saw the video of the Caps partying after. Hopefully they carried it into today and will be a little hung over for the game and we can get a little bit of an advantage.”
There's definitely a #OneBuffalo kind of feel with the Caps and Nats, even though they are not co-owned like the Pegula family owns the Sabres and Bills. The Caps, remember, played Chicago in the 2015 Winter Classic at Nationals Park. Nats pitcher Max Scherzer and infielder Ryan Zimmerman came to the arena to lead the "Let's Go Caps" chant prior to Game 4 of the '18 Cup final while wearing full hockey gear.
The Caps brought the Stanley Cup to the ballpark after their win and Ovechkin embraced Zimmerman after throwing a ceremonial first pitch during the Nats' playoff run over the last month.
— Washington 👻 Capitals (@Capitals) June 5, 2018
"Wow, it's going to be pretty loud in there I'm sure," said Sabres center Marcus Johansson, who played with the Caps from 2010-2017. "I think that whole city is pumping pretty well right now, so it's going to be fun for me to see."
The game figures to be one of the best of the weekend across the NHL. The Caps (9-2-3) are atop the NHL's overall standing with 21 points and lead the NHL in scoring at 3.86 goals per game. Meanwhile, the Sabres (9-2-2) are just one point back and are hoping to regain their sharpness after a day off and two strong practices.
Ovechkin is again red-hot, with 11 goals and 18 points in 14 games. Defenseman John Carlson has become a massive weapon as he leads all blueliners and is third overall in scoring with 23 points (7-16-23). Ovechkin's longtime center, Nicklas Backstrom, has 10 assists and 12 points.
"Backstrom is so good with the puck. He can slow the game down and buy time for his linemates," Johansson said. "The way he can make plays and see the ice, there's not many people in the world who can do it that way. And with 'Ovi,' the way he shoots and the puck and the so many different ways he can score make him one of a kind. They're a pretty good combo for sure."
The Sabres are coming off Monday's 3-2 shootout loss to Arizona and are looking to avoid their first two-game skid of the season.
"A World Series championship city will have a buzz to it and we're going to feed off that, too," said Buffalo coach Ralph Krueger. "We're looking forward to it after our first three-day lull since the start of the season. I felt a renewed surge of energy in the group today in practice. There was a lot of speed there.
"We know what's coming at us. We know we're going to have to play our best hockey here to have a chance. That's all we want to do: Give ourselves a chance in Washington in that atmosphere, in the spirit of the World Series. Let's feed on that and participate in a great game."
DISTRICT. OF. CHAMPIONS!
Congratulations to the World @Nationals!
— Washington 👻 Capitals (@Capitals) October 31, 2019