WASHINGTON — Nine early playoff exits paved the way for the Capitals’ unexpected Stanley Cup run and made the trip down Constitution Avenue all the more satisfying to the NHL champions and their fans.

Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom rode the final bus down the mile-long parade route, lifting the Cup to roaring cheers.

Five days after capturing the franchise’s first title and the first of any kind by a Washington team in the major four professional sports since 1992, this was their day to soak in winning following so much disappointment.

“Because we waited so long, I think it feels even better,” Backstrom said.

Hundreds of thousands of fans lined Constitution and filled the National Mall on Tuesday to celebrate a long journey fulfilled. One fan held up a sign reading, “Worth the Wait,” but before the end of the rally, T.J. Oshie already had the crowd thinking about next season.

“There’s been a lot of chants,” Oshie said. “There’s been, “Let’s Go Caps,” there’s been, “We Want the Cup.” We’ve heard in the streets, “We’ve got the Cup.” We’ve got a new one for you today – ‘Back-to-back.”

The serious work of getting geared up for next season begins with decisions on Coach Barry Trotz, defenseman John Carlson and other free agents.