Seriously, what else can you say after witnessing the Washington Capitals miraculously emerge victorious in the most tightly-contested playoff series in the history of hockey?
Not only did they somehow defeat the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins (with a rookie goalie in net!), but they did so thanks to the efforts of two veteran players who both found themselves in the coach’s doghouse at various points during the regular season.
Too often during the Alex Ovechkin era, the Capitals have entered the postseason as heavy favorites, only to be bounced in painstaking fashion. And yet, somehow the Caps found a way to scrap and claw their way to a series victory during the year they barely even qualified for the playoffs.
Try not to over-analyze it. Instead, just sit back and relish the fact that the Capitals are heading into the second round of the playoffs thanks to a beautifully ugly goal by forward Joel “Commander in Chief” Ward in overtime.*
*And if you haven’t heard it yet, please do yourself a favor and listen to John Walton of the Capitals Radio Broadcast call the game winner. It’s simply amazing.
Honestly though, two players — forwards Mike Knuble and Ward — who couldn’t consistently crack coach Dale Hunter’s lineup on a team that barely squeaked into the playoffs somehow combined for one of the most satisfying victories I’ve ever experienced thanks to a play I will forever refer to as an “old-man rush.”
Seriously, Knuble and Ward finished the regular season tied for 12th on the team with just 18 points. Each player was inactive at some point during the season thanks to a “coach’s decision.” So naturally, they’re the two players who pull off the dramatic finish in overtime of Game 7 against the defending champs.
Conversely, the Capitals were still able to close out the series against the second-best offense in hockey on a night when the team’s top two scorers — Ovechkin and Alexander Semin — were nothing more than passengers.
The Capitals aren’t supposed to win on a night when the Young Guns — Ovechkin, Semin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green — go pointless. They’re not supposed to outlast the reigning champs with Braden Holtby, their third-string goalie.
And yet, thanks to great individual efforts by a couple of blue-collar veteran — Knuble, Ward and Matt Hendricks — Washington lives to see another day.
This is why I’m a “glass half empty” kind of guy. Because when you’re conditioned to expect the worst year after year, you can no longer be heartbroken if/when that’s what happens.
But when you’ve already convinced yourself the Caps are done and then they finally buy in to Hunter’s system and suddenly transform into a lockdown defense against one of the league’s highest-scoring teams … well … words can barely describe how wonderfully satisfying it feels.
This is why people are so passionate about sports. Because every so often, you get to experience something special. If you’ve been a D.C. sports fan for any length of time you know this feeling doesn’t come around often, so please cherish it. Savor it. Revel in it for as long as possible.
Because there’s no telling when a moment like this will come around again.
In a few days, the Capitals will travel to most likely New York or Philadelphia to begin the second round of the playoffs. And once again, they’ll be the underdog — which is exactly where you should want them to be.
This team struggles when expectations are placed upon them. They collapse when they’re supposedly the favorite. But any time critics begin to write them off and it appears they’re on the verge of blowing it up and starting over, these players rally together and remind us all just how talented they can be.
Best of all, everything changes now. The arch-nemesis Pittsburgh Penguins are gone. Expectations are gone. From this point on, the Caps are simply playing with house money.
And, as far as I’m concerned, this win all but guarantees the return of general manager George McPhee and coach Dale Hunter. For a while there, it appeared that both would likely be elsewhere this time next year.
But strong play down the stretch from a determined group of players got the Capitals into the playoffs and for the first time in a long time, they’ve actually achieved something memorable once they got there.
Admit it though, you just knew the end was near when the game officials whistled forward Jason Chimera for holding with roughly two and a half minutes left in regulation.
Even though Boston’s powerplay had been garbage for most of the series, you had a terrible feeling in the pit of your stomach that some fluky bounce would doom the Caps and allow the Bruins to eke out the win.
Thankfully, the Capitals rallied together one more time and prevented Boston from getting anywhere near Holtby. And once the penalty was successfully killed, Washington seized control of the game and the rest is history.
“We needed to win a series like this,” McPhee said in the post-game locker room. “This franchise needed it.”
“We played them as hard as we could, and I don’t know how we did it, but it was nice to see that go in. We needed it,” McPhee added.
If that doesn’t sound like a guy who knew just how close this organization was to blowing it up and starting over, then I don’t know anything about sports.
Oh, and before I forget, let’s all say goodbye to our good buddy Tim Thomas. Last time we saw him, he looked a little down and out. Don’t hang your head though Timmy, there is a silver lining for you in all of this.
You don’t have to worry about another one of those pesky invites to the White House this year. So if nothing else, feel free to thank to Caps for that.