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15May

Panthers rally (again and again), Caps eliminated (again)

The Washington Capitals have been eliminated in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs for a fourth consecutive season. 

The Caps, who held a two-games-to-one series lead over the Florida Panthers, had numerous chances throughout the series, but simply failed to rise to the occasion when given ample opportunities. Washington held a lead in Game 4, 5 and 6, but the President’s Trophy-winning Panthers were able to battle back in all three contests and will now advance to the second round while the Capitals are once again faced with difficult decisions after a hasty exit.

“You have to shut down teams,” said Nicklas Backstrom. “I don’t know what else to say. It’s obviously on us. It’s disappointing.”

Priority number one for general manager Brian MacLellan this offseason needs to be upgrading the goaltending situation. Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek are both restricted free agents and either could be a solid backup next season. But neither has shown they can be the unquestioned starter for a veteran team in ‘win-now’ mode.

Beyond the netminders, MacLellan has difficult choices to make with the top half of the roster as well. Backstrom clearly wasn’t himself this season as he battled through a hip injury. T.J. Oshie broke his foot early in the season, tried to play through it and ended up dealing with lingering back issues because of it. Alex Ovechkin entered the postseason with a left shoulder injury that caused him to miss the final three games of the regular season. Tom Wilson suffered a significant knee injury in the opening minutes of the playoffs and would not have been cleared to return to action even if Washington had been able to advance to the second round.

Will each of these core players be able to fully recover and remain productive for an aging Capitals team desperate to make one final run at glory? Or is this franchise in dire need of a more radical overhaul if the goal is to do anything more than simply qualify for the postseason at this point?

08May

Caps crush Cats, cruise to convincing win

Considering how the Washington Capitals limped into the postseason — losing five of their final six regular season games — reasonable hockey fans had doubts about the team ability to magically flip a switch come playoff time.

Watching the team’s defensive struggles down the stretch and erratic goaltending all season long made even the most optimistic of individuals admit that this likely wasn’t Washington’s year.

Naturally, the Caps welcomed the President’s Trophy-winning Florida Panthers to town with an emphatic 6-1 victory to take a two-games-to-one series lead in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

During the regular season, the high-flying Panthers scored an impressive 340 goals while allowing just 246 goals against. Through three playoff game though, Florida is having a tougher time generating consistent scoring chances thanks to Washington’s improved play in the neutral zone. By getting back quickly and limiting odd-man rushes, the Caps are doing to the Panthers what stymied Alex Ovechkin and the Young Guns in their early run-and-gun days.

Capitals goalie Ilya Samsonov, who sat out the first five periods of the series, started Game 3 and, much like he’s done throughout his 39 starts this season, immediately allowed a soft goal in the opening minutes of this matchup. Fortunately for the home team, the young netminder settled down afterwards and finished the night with 29 saves. With Samsonov having one of his strongest showings in recent history, all four lines in front of him played with a confidence and ease that hasn’t been seen all that often this season. Add in two power play goals and a perfect night for the penalty killing unit and this was the rare home playoff game that didn’t induce a panic attack for Caps fans.

07May

Commanders hope three’s a magic number

Anyone who has spent any amount of time around the sport would agree that the NFL Draft is the closest thing to Christmas morning for professional football.

During this happiest of holiday offseasons, the Commanders went with a theme as they selected their newest additions. Washington’s 2022 rookie class features a third receiver (Penn State’s Jahan Dotson), a third defensive tackle (Alabama’s Phidarian Mathis), a third running back (Alabama’s Brian Robinson Jr.), a third safety (Louisiana Lafayette’s Percy Butler) and a third quarterback (North Carolina’s Sam Howell).

Since the offseason began, Washington has gotten a new name for its franchise, the Commanders, and now Ron Rivera and friends have an infusion of talent to add to the mix of established veterans as they head into Year 3.

Rookie camp provides the coaching staff and talent evaluators their first chance to see the youngsters in burgundy and gold. While little can be taken away from kids running through a few drills in shorts in May, it’s still an exciting time for these young athletes who are just beginning to realize their dreams.

19Apr

Fozzy at Tally Ho Theater

For more than 30 years, Chris Jericho has entertained millions of fans around the globe as one of the biggest names in professional wrestling. In addition to being one of the faces and founding members of All Elite Wrestling, Jericho is also the lead singer for a hard rock band that continually punches above its weight class.

“If Metallica and Journey had a bastard child, it would be Fozzy.” That’s how wrestler-turned-frontman Jericho once described his band, and it makes a lot of sense. When Jericho takes to the stage with lead guitarist Rich “The Duke” Ward, rhythm guitarist Billy Grey, bassist P. J. Farley and drummer Grant Brooks, big things happen.

With five consecutive top 20 singles, including “Judas,” which earned certified gold status earlier this year, Fozzy has absolutely established themselves as a heavyweight in the world of hard rock. When they came to Virginia, their most recent track, “I Still Burn,” was the most added song in hard rock. And yet, none of those accolades addresses just how much fun Fozzy is live and in person. Whether they’re playing an intimate venue or a massive music festival, the charisma and energy level never waivers. Bottom line: these five performers are world-class entertainers.

14Apr

Badflower at Rams Head Live!

It’s simple math really, Josh Katz plus a guitar and a microphone equals emotions. It’s impossible to hear the Los Angeles-based frontman pour his heart and soul into a track and feel nothing. The opportunity to witness the angst, anguish and torment of Katz’s vocals paired with the musical stylings of lead guitarist Joey Morrow, bass guitarist Alex Espiritu and drummer Anthony Sonetti in person was too much to resist.

So when Badflower swung through Baltimore on the heels of their sophomore album, This Is How the World Ends, which dropped last September, I knew I had to be there. And boy am I glad I did. They were fantastic from the moment they took the stage, captivating the packed venue with tracks like “White Noise” and “Fuckboi” as we all strapped in for an emotional journey. Katz could barely strum the opening few notes of “Don’t Hate Me” before the entire building tore into the smash hit.

By the time the band finished the emotional rollercoaster that was their set (and encore), those in attendance had absolutely gotten their money’s worth. Sure, maybe things aren’t always great and all of us our dealing with our own personal adversities as best we can, but on a random Tuesday in April, a packed house got together for one helluva therapy session. And I can’t wait to do it again.

13Apr

’68 at Rams Head Live!

The Black Keys. Royal Blood. cleopatrick. If these dynamic duos have taught us anything, it’s that there is absolutely nowhere to hide when your band only consists of two members.

Just like these other acts, lead singer/guitarist Josh Scogin and drummer Nikko Yamada have embraced a minimalistic approach to music. Everything from the bands name — ’68 — to their preferred instruments (just one cymbal and one tom on Yamaha’s drum kit) to their music videos leans into a “less is more” mindset, and yet, this Atlanta-based act absolutely knows how to command a stage.

Playing a set that featured tracks from their third album, Give One Take One, ’68 quickly won over what could have been a sleepy Tuesday night crowd with their brash, bold and bluesy in-your-face sound. While the band may shy away from excess, Scogin and Yamada don’t cut corners — as was evident by their guitar-tossing, percussion-heavy set that left both dapper-dressed gentlemen drenched in sweat as their time came to an end.

23Mar

Physical battle with St. Louis leaves Capitals battered, blue

The streaky Washington Capitals were unable to find a veteran goaltender before the NHL trade deadline, but that doesn’t mean they sat idle. General manager Brian MacLellan acquired a pair of forwards — Seattle’s Marcus Johansson and Arizona’s Johan Larsson — to bolster his team’s lineup in preparation for the postseason.

Johansson was back in D.C., where he spent his first seven seasons, in time to play the St. Louis Blues, while Larsson remains sidelined as he recovers from sports hernia surgery. MacLellan’s hope is that these veterans can provide coach Peter Laviolette with stability and consistency that has been lacking due to injuries and uneven play from rookies and younger players.

Unfortunately, Washington was unable to take advantage of Johansson’s first game back in a Capitals’ sweater since 2016 due to shoddy team defense and an overall lack of discipline.

“We gave up way too much in the first period,” Laviolette said after the 5-2 loss. “Too many mental mistakes, too many soft mistakes. Too easy to play against.”

The Caps were outshot 38 to 21, lost 63 percent of their faceoffs and generally looked a step slow on the night, as they dropped their second-straight home game. With 17 games remaining, nights like this are going to need to become few and far between for this season to end in anything other than disappointment.

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