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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.

A Nervous Wednesday for Caps Fans

Ok, I don’t really believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy but I do believe in the Washington Capitals. God- please- this once- could you not be a dream-killer?

No #1 Stanley Cup seed has ever lost an opening round series to a #8 seed after going up 3 games to 1. But the Caps have a chance to make that dubious piece of history Wednesday at the Verizon Center and they know it. Stung by complacency in Game 5 and one the best performances by any goalie ever in Game 6…we will soon know what the Caps are made of.

I am gloriously, dangerously and deeply emotionally invested in this damn thing. Granted, not as much as my season-ticket holding friends who were actually there to see the 2-1 Game 5 debacle when the Caps could have ended it all; who have followed every amazing twist and turn of a regular season that ended with Washington as the best team in all of hockey.

But the Caps are part of my neighborhood and I can’t help it. I live a block from Verizon Center and I’ve seen the red madness out in the streets of Chinatown before and after every home game. I hear the horns honking after an inspiring victory like Game 2 against Montreal when the Caps rallied to win a 5-4 nail-biter in overtime. And whether I get into the arena or not, I will be out in the streets for the joyous, delirious celebration when the boys hoist the ultimate prize above their heads.

Because I cannot accept the possibility that it could all come crashing down in one sad, pitiful moment Wednesday night; because it would make me wonder what the hell the regular season is for, and therefore, why even watch or care at all- I must believe they will pull this off.

Not only that, but I must believe that if they do win game 7 Wednesday- they have a real chance to go all the way. Here’s the theory, expressed by Brian McNally of the Washington Examiner:

…win that seventh game and no one remembers a thing. The panic subsides — for a few days at least. Jaroslav Halak can’t follow you to Philadelphia. You don’t have to go back to Bell Centre and its legion of screaming fanatics. It’s a new series and a 0-0 start and sometimes the relief of that allows a team to loosen up and make a run at a championship.

Right? Doesn’t that make sense? I have to believe. They will win. Otherwise, on Thursday morning when I wake up, Santa Claus will have been shot at point-blank range by an armed bandit, the Easter Bunny’s head will be hanging on some hunter’s wall and the Tooth Fairy will be serving 10 to 20 for a narcotics conviction. What’s left of my innocence will be gone.