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Miracle on Ice

Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau

I, personally, will never forget what I saw on my TV last night as the Washington Capitals roared back from a 3-0 abyss and somehow rallied to end up beating the New York Rangers in double-overtime, 4-3.

You should see what they’re saying about the Caps today in the national media. Understand the Caps are kind of like the Boston Red Sox prior to the end of their jinx; almost always a very good team that somehow finds a way to lose regardless of the apparent good fortune they seem to be in at any given time. No series lead has been too big to blow. No overtime game has been too important that they didn’t manage to lose it in heart-breaking fashion. It’s just our reputation.

But today, sportswriters are saying that a team that does what the Caps managed to do last night at Madison Square Garden, has to be taken very seriously as a true Stanley Cup contender. And add the atmospherics and it was really an amazing achievement. After Caps coach Bruce Boudreau dissed both the Garden and Ranger fans in an interview earlier in the week on a local Washington radio station- MSG was loud and electric.

And when the Rangers got out to a 3-0 lead in the 2nd period including two goals scored 7 seconds apart- the old tapes started playing in every Washington fan’s head all over again. It was nothing short of humiliating. The Caps looked disheartened and destroyed. The New York fans, criticized by the Caps coach as being disinterested, erupted in loud, thunderous chants of “Can you hear us?”

At this writing, we still don’t know exactly what happened in that Cap’s locker room between the 2nd and 3rd periods. But the team that hit the ice for the start of that final period was a team I have never seen before. Hockey’s a funny game. Three goals seems like a lot to overcome since these things are scored one at a time. But when you trail like that and suddenly score twice in 57 seconds—well—all bets are off. And the Garden started getting very, very quiet. And when the Caps tied the game at 3, the sense of doom was palpable, even on a TV set.

Overtime playoff hockey is a very nervous thing to watch. Goals in hockey come in an instant. It’s not like watching a march down the field by a football team. What looks like great offensive fortune at one moment, turns into defensive collapse in the next. To go through 20 minutes of overtime like that is a tough deal for hockey fans. It’s really stressful.

The players are dog-tired. They’re legs have given up. The pace of play slows down and becomes more tentative. Fewer offensive chances are taken but the likelihood of mental error born of sheer exhaustion goes up exponentially. Playoff overtimes rarely end with a spectacular goal. Mostly, a silly mistake ends the agony. And so it was for the Caps last night as the New York goaltender and the Ranger’s strongest offensive player miscommunicated right at their own net and left an easy opportunity the Caps promptly used to end this thing in glorious fashion for the Caps and excruciatingly for the Rangers.

So the Caps are one game away from ending this first round of the playoffs and moving on in their path to the promised land. But we are not a cocky bunch. Caps fans are a scared and tentative lot. We were one game away from moving to the 2nd round last year too. Yes, last night was a miracle. But it can all vanish in an instant if the Rangers pull off an upset Saturday in Washington.

We are not bragging today- us Caps fans. We are elated to root for a team with such heart, and toughness and grit and courage. But we are no longer so foolish and naïve as to think it can’t all disappear in an instant.

What I do know is that this team, this time around, regardless of their ultimate destiny- is one that lives in our hearts for a long time to come. These are our 55 Brooklyn Dodgers; the boys, the bums, our heroes. To see such talent matched by such heart is a rare thing indeed.

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