D.C.’s playoff futility by the ugly numbers

WASHINGTON — The Capitals play for a spot in the Eastern Conference final on Wednesday night when they host Game 7 of a Stanley Cup playoff second-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Wizards, too, are close to reaching the NBA conference finals with Game 5 of their tied playoff series against the Boston Celtics also scheduled for Wednesday. That’s two legitimate chances to break a streak that’s close to 20 years…and counting.

And wouldn’t that be nice. Finally. The Caps reached the Stanley Cup Final in 1998. Otherwise, the Caps/Nationals/Redskins/Wizards have been shut out. It’s made for fan-team relationships that can only be termed “complicated.”

Each organization has its own checkered playoff history. The Redskins have made the postseason just five times since 1992 and never advanced to the NFC title game. The Bullets/Wizards have reached the playoffs 15 times in the last 38 seasons, including this year, but have never made it past a Game 6 in the second round.

The Caps, of course, have made heartbreak a habit. They’ve blown the most 3-1 series leads in NHL history (five) despite existing for only 42 seasons and are an unspeakable 4-12 in decisive Game 5s and 7s.

The Nats are like a kid trying to outdo their older siblings. They have won the NL East three times in five years yet compiled an impressive amount of heartache that includes blowing a 6-0 lead in a winner-take-all Game 5 vs. St. Louis in 2012, losing an 18-inning game to the Giants in 2014 and dropping another Game 5 at home last October to the Dodgers. They still haven’t won a playoff series.

Let’s go back to that glorious month of January 1992 when the Redskins won three playoff games by a combined score of 102-41 and earned their third Super Bowl trophy in 10 years. Between that date – Jan. 26, 1992 – and today, a Washington sports team in those four leagues has made the conference finals just once in 86 chances. No other city’s teams are close to as futile.

Want proof? There are 12 other cities with four teams in the NFL, MLB, NHL and NBA. New York’s nine teams have made a combined 38 conference finals. Even if you’re a New Yorker who only likes the Mets, Jets, Nets and Islanders, you’ve seen your teams play in 10 conference final series/games.

Boston has had 25 appearances among its four teams and all of them have won a title – since 2008! Los Angeles is up to eight teams now with the Chargers and Rams moving to LA. Even without the NFL contributing, that metro area has 23 conference finals. You only like the Clippers, Ducks and Angels? Cool. You’ve seen your teams make it to the conference finals seven times. No thanks to the Clippers, of course.

If for some weird reason you live in the Bay Area, but refuse to root for a team unless it has San Francisco in its name: You’ve still seen 11 conference finals. Just an Oakland fan and San Jose is too far away for you to like hockey or the Sharks? You’ve enjoyed six between the Warriors, A’s and Raiders. So excuse D.C. sports fans if they’re a little jealous. And possibly unhinged. Here are the four-sport cities and how they rank in conference finals appearances since 1992:

New York (nine teams): 38
Boston: 25
Los Angeles (eight teams): 23
San Francisco/Bay Area (six teams): 21
Chicago (five teams): 20
Detroit: 18
Philadelphia: 16
Dallas: 13
Denver: 13
Miami: 11
Phoenix: 9
Minnesota: 6
D.C.: 1

That’s almost comical. Now, Minnesota has had its share of heartache. The Vikings can probably match the Caps for disastrous playoff chokes. They’ve lost four Super Bowls and the 1999 NFC title game debacle inspired its own episode of “How I Met Your Mother.” Still – every one of its teams (Twins, Wild, Vikings, Timberwolves) has made a conference final since the Caps last made it.

Dipping down into the three-sport cities, though, is where the real pain begins. Cleveland won its title last year with LeBron and the Cavs’ epic comeback vs. Golden State. Yes, the Browns are terrible. But while the Indians have had a few near misses, including last year’s World Series, they long ago shed their “Major League” status. Toronto’s last title was in 1993, but the Blue Jays made it back to the ALCS in 2015 and 2016 and the Raptors did it last spring, too. Even Tampa Bay’s teams run circles around the District. Pop some Advil. It only gets worse.

Pittsburgh: 17
Atlanta: 13
Cleveland: 10
Milwaukee (including Green Bay): 9
Toronto: 9
Tampa Bay: 7
Houston: 6

Now let’s look at the two-sports towns and really have a good cry. A couple of these are former three-sport cities so St. Louis (Rams) and Seattle (Supersonics) aren’t what they used to be. But the 50-and-older D.C. sports fan knows what it’s like to see a team move (Senators Part II) and if you’re over 60 you’ve seen it happen twice (Senators Part I). There’s limited sympathy. Seeing Baltimore on this list has to hurt, too. Sorry, hon.

St. Louis: 14
Indianapolis: 13
Seattle: 8
Baltimore: 7
Buffalo: 6
Charlotte: 4
Kansas City: 3
Nashville: 2
New Orleans: 2
Cincinnati: 1

D.C. is tied with Cincinnati at least! So we’ve got that going for us. The one-sport towns are just going to make you drink vodka straight from the bottle. Just being honest. These are cities with one major pro team that still lucked into greatness or titles or both. The fact that Raleigh has a Stanley Cup banner hanging in its arena and Verizon Center doesn’t will only infuriate you more. Probably.

San Antonio: 10
Salt Lake City: 6
Oklahoma City: 4
Orlando: 4
Ottawa: 3
Montreal: 3
Portland: 3
Raleigh: 3
San Diego: 3
Edmonton: 2
Jacksonville: 2
Vancouver: 2
Sacramento: 1
Memphis: 1
Calgary: 1
Columbus: 0
Winnipeg: 0

So there it is. The nation’s capital is in league with Memphis, Calgary, Sacramento, Cincinnati and their combined five teams for sports futility. And D.C. can barely talk trash to Columbus (home to Ohio State anyway) or Winnipeg (without its hockey team for 14 years). Will this be the week the nightmare finally ends?

Follow 106.7 The Fan reporter Brian McNally

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