Credit: Brian Murphy

The main reason the Washington Capitals have always been my favorite sports franchise is that the vast majority of people reading this didn’t care about them when I was growing up.

My father worked with a guy who had a second job at the old Caps Arena, and because the building was almost never full back in those days, Tommy would regularly call us up and say, “If you guys can get here before the puck drops in 45 minutes, I have three tickets for you at will call.”

We’d rush to Landover, pick up the comped tickets, and find ourselves one or two rows from the glass. My family couldn’t afford season tickets, but because the Capitals typically fell in the category of “solid, but unspectacular,” I spent a large chunk of my youth rooting for D.C.’s fourth most popular sports franchise. The Caps fell behind the football team, the Bullets, and even the Baltimore Orioles.

While I could regale you with stories about 10-year-old me fighting to stay awake long enough to see which team won the Easter Epic (spoiler alert: it wasn’t the Capitals) or about the time, while in the U.S. Army, I got permission from my drill sergeant to miss curfew and attend what turned out to be a quadruple overtime loss to the hated Pittsburgh Penguins in ’96, this isn’t about me.

Sure, I’ve loved the Caps since helmets were optional and a goalie’s gear didn’t take up the entire net, but I’m the first to admit that things are much more enjoyable these days. Having the building packed with passionate and vocal fans who actually care about the home team has made the last decade so much better—even if I have to pay for my tickets now.

So I’ve put together a guide for bandwagon fans. Before you take out a second mortgage to cover the cost of Stanley Cup Finals tickets, do us all a favor and familiarize yourself with the basics about your Washington Capitals.

  • If you’re going to support this franchise, the first thing you should know—even before you try to comprehend the rules of the game—is that everyone in this town wears red. It isn’t optional. It isn’t up for debate. If you show up wearing anything other than a red t-shirt or jersey, everyone in the building will think less of you. If you’re going to “Rock the Red,” then “Rock the Red.”

  • What your choice in Caps jersey says about you: If you sport an Alex Ovechkin sweater, you’re either a 6-year-old or a bandwagon fan who came directly from Dick’s Sporting Goods. If you don a Braden Holtby, you dig the quiet, brooding type. And vampire movies, probably. If you wear a Christian Djoos jersey … you’re related to Christian Djoos.

  • Hockey is the original hipster sport, so while other games are broken up into things that make sense, namely halves or quarters, hockey has three periods. Look, we all know it’s completely ridiculous, but we’ve learned to accept it and move on. It has something to do with the Canadian exchange rate or the whales in Hartford. Or something.

  • Find a primer online explaining offside and icing. Knowing these will help you understand the flow of the game, and actually understanding what is and isn’t icing will put you ahead of most of the crowd, and many of the linesmen.

  • Never in the history of our country has it been more popular in D.C. to love all things Russian. Lucky for you, the local hockey team features some of the best talent Mother Russia has to offer in Dmitry Orlov, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and the Russian Machine himself, Alex Ovechkin.

  • Up until about a week ago, the Capitals were known as a phenomenally gifted regular season team that routinely suffered devastating and demoralizing losses in the postseason. Thanks to a large dose of something known as “puck luck” and possibly even mythical beings known as “hockey gods,” the Caps and their fans (even the brand new ones!) are tormented no more.

  • Figuring out what constitutes a penalty in the playoffs is a mystery inside a riddle inside an enigma for even the most diehard longtime hockey fan. Take your cues on hollering at the officials from the rest of the crowd.

  • That said, if you feel the urge to chant “Ref You Suck,” you’re probably right.

  • Little known fact: All Caps players have a clause in their contract stating that they must make six passes before attempting a shot on net.

  • On the power play, the clause goes up to eight, in honor of Ovechkin.

  • If you’re able to get your hands on an actual ticket to Game 3 or 4, make sure you bring cash with you. Loud Goat doesn’t accept Paypal or Venmo, so you’ll need a few bucks in your pocket if you’re going to take a selfie with the team’s unofficial mascot. (I kid. I kid. Goat takes Apple Pay.)

  • Vegas General Manager George McPhee, who served the same role in D.C. from 1997 to 2014, deserves tons of respect and admiration from Caps fans for rebuilding this franchise. Unfortunately for GMGM, he traded away a top prospect named Filip Forsberg for a bag of pucks named Martin Erat, and Caps fans will never forgive or forget this colossal mistake. Like the case of D.C. quarterback Gus Frerotte, who injured himself head-butting a wall, McPhee’s bad trade is all anyone will think about whenever they see him until the day he dies.

  • Mercifully, GMGM’s replacement, Brian MacLellan (known as GMBM because hockey fans are lazy), has managed to keep the Capitals among the best teams in hockey throughout his time in charge. Just as important, he hasn’t made any moves nearly as badly as McPhee’s McPhailure—well, unless Golden Knights top defenseman Nate Schmidt scores the Stanley Cup clinching goal for Vegas.

  • Heading into the postseason, Barry Trotz benched Holtby, one of the best goalies in all of hockey. Two games later (both losses), the Caps coach reinserted his bearded backstop and the Capitals have never looked back. Similarly, Trotz sat André Burakovsky midway through the Eastern Conference Finals and then, two games later, the baby-faced winger was back in the lineup for Game 7 and responded with two key second-period goals to clinch the franchise’s second trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. Do these moves make Trotz a genius or a fool? No seriously, even us lifers have no idea what to make of this.

  • Speaking of Holtby, the goalie will leave the net from time to time. If nobody else is freaking out about it, there’s no reason for you to.

  • True story: During his rookie season, Tom Wilson wasn’t even given a hockey stick or gloves. Washington’s coaching staff simply gave him boxing gloves and pointed him in the direction of whoever they wanted him to “Hulk smash.”

  • That said, at this stage of the playoffs, the likelihood of a fight is very low. Constantly saying, “I hope there’s a fight” or shouting “Fight! Fight! Fight!” throughout the game is the hockey equivalent of “Freebird!” Nobody likes “Freebird!”

  • A 2-0 lead, whether during a game or a series, is legitimate cause for concern. If the Caps manage to take a 3-1 lead, the local fan base will not take it well. Do everyone a favor and please give longtime fans a little extra time and space to work through it.