SNYDER: Time of year when Caps fans must squeeze tighter

Dear Hockey Fans:

It’s great to hang out with you again. There’s nothing like playoff hockey!

True, we spend precious little time together during the regular season. But, you know, so what? Don’t take it out on me just because you’ve been here for the entire slog. Others have watched from afar, watching and flipping the calendar. We grabbed a seat and enjoyed the Maple Leafs series, a tasty first-round appetizer.

Now comes a meatier course, the nemesis from Steel City. Go Caps!

Hockey is a great sport and I’m reminded of that fact each spring as the postseason begins. The skating ability, the stick handling, the speed and the hitting. Your commitment is understandable.

I’d commit too if my schedule allowed it… and (maybe) following the puck was easier.

Keeping my eye on the thing can be difficult, especially when the front of the net resembles a Beltway traffic jam. I suppose you get better at it the more you watch. My ability to track pucks improves steadily, throughout the opening round until whichever round the Caps are done.

I’ll be a master if they ever reach Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

My wife and kids don’t understand how hockey is never on my TV during the season and then regularly on during the playoffs. I can’t explain it fully, either. It’s an easy habit to form if not downright addictive: Puck drops; watch game; hold breath; repeat.

As a sports journalist and DMV resident for the better part of three decades, I’m fully aware of the angst suffered by Caps fans, especially in the Alex Ovechkin era. The teams have been so good for so long, with nothing but three lousy Presidents’ Trophies as the reward. Even though hockey experts readily admit that superior teams often are sent home early by crazy bounces, bad breaks and hot goalies, the Caps are slandered every year they fall short.

Now they face the mighty Penguins again. Calling this a rivalry is a stretch, considering Pittsburgh’s 8-1 playoff series record against the Caps. More heartache is a distinct possibility and perhaps should be expected. But it’s reassuring that many hockey pundits are picking Washington to break through this year.

If/when it happens, please be kind to folks who visit only at this time of year.

Don’t have a holier-than-thou attitude because you understand the intricacies of offsides. Don’t turn up your nose because casual fans are slow to recognize delayed penalties. Don’t shake your head if they’re confused by icing calls and constant shift changes.

Hockey should have enough room for diehards, drop-bys and everyone in between. The Caps are a huge story nationally and a joy to treasure locally. Rocking the Red doesn’t have to be your No.1 passion or a full-time obsession to be crazy fun.

We’re all in this together now.

For as long as it lasts and ’till we meet again next spring.

— Follow Deron on Twitter @DeronSnyder and email him at deron1067thefan@gmail.com

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