STONY BROOK, N.Y. — On Wednesday evening, the Maryland women’s lacrosse team gathered for dinner at Long Island’s Vincent Clam Bar. Seafood on Long Island? Of course, it’s a staple. For the Terrapins, the meal was preparation before their big game on Friday, when they’ll face the Boston College Eagles with a trip to the NCAA Championship on the line.
But goalie Megan Taylor, and many of her Maryland teammates too, was antsy the whole meal about a different team trying to make the finals: the Washington Capitals.
“It was probably the biggest game of my career and I wasn’t even playing in it,” Taylor said of Wednesday night’s Capitals game, a Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Washington was trying to make the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1998, before many of the Terps players were even born.
By the time they rode the bus back to the hotel, the national anthem was playing, and then came puck drop. Taylor was sitting somewhere in the middle of the bus, watching on her phone. Her carrier is Sprint, which she said comes in a bit slower than her teammates’ phones.
Suddenly the players in the front of the bus started to scream, then the players in the back of the bus.
“I was like, what happened, what happened? What’s going on?” Taylor said. “Then I started to scream too because I saw it. Oh my god.”
The Capitals captain, Alex Ovechkin, opened up for a pass. His center and countryman, Evgeny Kuznetsov, fed one over, then Ovechkin rocketed a slapshot to the top-shelf. Washington led, 1-0, just 62 seconds into the game.
When they got to the hotel, Taylor’s room turned into a watch-party. Terrapins head coach Cathy Reese recruits almost exclusively in-state, and Maryland is Caps country, so almost the whole team is emotionally invested in D.C. hockey.
By the end of the night, the Capitals finally closed out a dominant 4-0 victory (“Thank god they did,” Taylor said. “I don’t know if I could have shown up to breakfast [Thursday] if they lost.”) The celebration video from Taylor’s hotel room went semi-viral on Twitter, with the Capitals’ official account sharing it.
“During playoff time, you see so many people emerge, randomly,” Taylor said. “You see people that are Penguins fans come out as Penguins fans. I mean, come on, where were you hiding all year?”
Taylor said that during the second round Caps-Penguins series, she’d walk down McKeldin Mall, the main green at College Park and it would be all red, a meadow of Capitals attire.
So who’s her favorite player? Taylor is a three-time Big Ten Goaltender of the Year, so it has to be Braden Holtby, the Caps’ own stalwart minder of the crease, right? Surprisingly no.
“I love Ovi. Classic energy bunny. Holtby, I have a soft spot for because I’m a goalie,” she said. “But my favorite player’s probably Nicklas Backstrom because he’s such an unsung hero. He wins faceoffs, he’s on the penalty kill. He does those little things and gets no credit.”
Friday’s semifinals also feature James Madison, a school from Virginia, the other state adjacent to Washington, D.C. And yes, the Dukes certainly are in on the Capitals buzz too.
“It’s been literally since the year I was born,” Maddie McDaniel, a James Madison sophomore midfielder said. “You could just tell how much they wanted it. You could tell that, I mean, this is our year.”
For McDaniel, whose favorite player is right-winger and former Team USA hero T.J. Oshie, likened the Dukes’ recent successes to the Capitals. James Madison advanced to the Final Four for the first time since 2000 this year.
“It’s been forever for this school, just like it’s been forever for the Caps,” she said. “Just being able to experience this with my teammates is the biggest of honors.”
Megan Taylor said she is extremely thankful that the Capitals’ first Stanley Cup Finals game (against the Vegas Golden Knights) isn’t until this Monday, after championship weekend is finished for the women.
“It’s so nice that, just for the weekend, that stress is gone,” she said. “I don’t even have to think about it. I just get to play lacrosse, for two games hopefully, and then on Monday I get to carry it on with the Caps.”