Published On: Tue, Jun 19th, 2018

Capitals' Cup win leaves Nats thirsty for 'champagne celebrations' of their own

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TORONTO – Adam Eaton has become somewhat of a Stanley Cup whisperer.

The Washington Nationals outfielder has resided in a Stanley Cup-winning city in three of the last six seasons and jokes that once his contract expires, he could be a good-luck charm for NHL teams looking to win a championship.

“The Cup seems to follow me around,” Eaton told theScore in the visiting clubhouse of Rogers Centre. “When I was in Chicago, twice they won it (2013, 2015). I was one year delayed (in Washington), I apologize for that.

“If NHL teams want to lobby for me – land a little payday – that would be alright with me (once I’m a free agent). I’m all for that. Leafs, if you’re listening.”

The excitement from the Washington Capitals‘ Stanley Cup win was still palpable in the Nationals’ clubhouse during the ball club’s first trip to Toronto in six years. Eaton was wearing a Capitals hat, while several other players had Capitals gear on in the hours before the game.

“I gotta admit, I’m a Flyers fan, I grew up outside Philadelphia, so once the Flyers got knocked out I jumped on the Caps bandwagon,” Nationals closer Sean Doolittle told theScore. “I think the thing that I thought was so cool was the way the city rallied behind them. There was a definite energy around the city throughout the playoffs as they were making the run. If they were playing, the game was on in our clubhouse. It was on on the bus when we were going back to the hotel after our game. Guys had it on their phones, we would watch it on the way to the airport.”

No major leaguer followed the Stanley Cup playoffs closer than Nationals star and Las Vegas native Bryce Harper, who became the Golden Knights’ No. 1 fan during their inaugural season. Though he admits he was upset that Vegas couldn’t deliver his hometown a championship, he was excited for his adopted home in Washington.

“For the Capitals to be able to bring a Cup back to D.C. it’s huge,” Harper told theScore. “What your goal is at the beginning of the year in every single sport is to win a championship, and for the Caps to be able to do that for the city and for the fans, I’m very excited for them. Hopefully Vegas can do that next year.”

Getting over the hump

Washington has certainly had no shortage of postseason disappointment, a burden the Capitals and Nationals have long shared. Each team had historically struggled trying to get over the hump, until the Capitals finally broke through this season. The Nationals have never advanced past the Division Series since moving to Washington in 2005, while the Capitals had never won the Stanley Cup in their previous 42 year history.

While the Capitals have taken some pressure off the city, anything but a championship for the Nationals would still be considered a disappointment this season. Harper, Daniel Murphy, and Gio Gonzalez are all set to hit free agency and the once rebuilding National League East is becoming much more competitive.

“For us, I think we have the players in here to do it,” Eaton said. “I think we have the players in here to be successful and make a good push. The Caps didn’t make huge moves, they continued with what they had in the room and made it work. If anything, take that away from (their championship), what’s in the room is what we have to work with. The pieces are there and you just have to go out there and perform.”

Doolittle believes there are some lessons to be learned given both franchises’ similar playoff history. Watching the Caps, he saw the club relax after finally beating the longtime rival Pittsburgh Penguins, and predicts the same could happen if the Nationals advanced to the NL Championship Series.

“I think a lot of us have kinda thought that once you do break through, the sky’s the limit,” Doolittle said. “It sounds really cliche, but I think that’s kind of the feeling. Once you get over the hump you can go all the way. (The Capitals) were all talking about how much fun they had and that’s really important. I think if you can get to a point where, yeah there’s pressure, there’s nerves, but the Caps were talking about how much fun they had. That’s a big thing in the playoffs, managing that energy.”

The Life of the Party

The victory lap around Washington from Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin has certainly not gone unnoticed by the Nationals. Ovechkin has been spotted running around town with the Cup, and even opted to jump shirtless into a fountain with several fans.

“I think everyone’s happy for him and that’s the cool part,” Eaton said. “It doesn’t matter which part of the country or world that you’re from, you can have appreciation for a guy who, since a little boy, has dreamed of holding the Cup over his head. When you have your chance to (celebrate) you might as well take advantage of it. I think a lot of people may not realize what is put into a life like his – dreaming of it, wanting it … it’s just a sigh of relief. It’s really unique to see and hard work pays off and I’m glad he’s enjoying it.”

Harper has watched Ovechkin plenty since he joined the Nationals in 2012. The two have both been respective MVPs of their league, and Harper says it’s incredible to watch someone fulfill their dream like Ovechkin did.

“For Ovie, he’s won so many awards and has had so many things happen in his career, to do that for the first time, you kind of expect (the crazy celebrations),” Harper said. “I’m very happy for him, very happy time for the Caps. It’s a thing to celebrate all summer.”

Next in line?

As much inspiration as the Capitals provided, it also built some envy in the Nationals clubhouse. They want that celebration, they want that moment with the city.

“There’s something about the Cup, being able to walk around the with trophy, no other sport really has that,” Dolittle said. “A lot of us, when we got traded over here last year, we were talking about that we hoped we were going to be the ones that would give the city its first parade. Now, you almost want it even more. Now that you see that kind of stuff, that’s what you play for, you play for those champagne celebrations.

“Guys in here that have either won, have been to the playoffs, or have got a taste of it, you’ll do anything to get back to that point. That energy is so different that it’s addicting. You want to get back there and to see them do that, that’s what we want.”

For Harper, a championship will likely define his legacy one day. He’s already been a five-time All-Star, Rookie of the Year, and MVP. But playoff success has yet to come. Four trips to the NLDS have equaled four early exits. It doesn’t make it any easier with Harper playing out what could be his final year in Washington this season.

Speaking about his future is something Harper has refused to talk about this year, but hockey isn’t. Strange for a kid from the desert, though he’s the first to admit that the sport has captured him in a way he never imagined. Now, he even hopes his future child plays hockey.

“It would be fun, a lot of fun,” Harper said. “Hockey in Vegas is definitely up and coming. To be able to have a professional team finally, it’s a lot of fun.”

When asked if the Harpers might have Stanley Cup and World Series champions in the family one day: “Hey, we’ll see.”

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

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