So I've had some time to simmer with last night's blow to the gut, a familiar feeling for Caps fans in the post season, but I think after yelling and crying and eating all of the cookies in the apartment I've finally come to terms with things (though still mourning the loss enough to procrastinate at work). At this point, according to the team, we can only look forward. BUT we can also look backwards (or to the sides... or even up and down). I am a history nerd, and as such, I believe there are important things we can learn from our past failures. Even from failures that occurred a mere 12 hours ago.
Over the past several years, I've seen some crushing post season defeats from our Caps. The Caps closed out the 2009-2010 regular season with the Presidents Trophy after dominating inferior teams with a crazy run-and-gun style of hockey. Defense was an afterthought, it was the thing you fell back on when the theory of "the best defense is good offense" failed. Bruce Boudreau and his team of net-crashing beasts were unceremoniously kicked out of the playoffs by 8th seed Montreal after having a 3-1 series lead. Playing fast and loose was exciting during the regular season when there wasn't much on the line, but that doesn't matter come playoff time. In the end, the Caps couldn't tighten up and they totally Vancouvered© it (actually this year Vancouver totally Capitaled it, but that doesn't sound as funny).
In the 2011 off-season, GMGM was thought to be the winner at hockey human resources. Everyone was pretty certain that NOW the Caps had what it would take to win the Cup. Everyone in the hockey world is super superstitious, so of course they totally jinxed us. After the Caps lost to Buffalo's AHL team, someone had to pay for the embarrassment and that someone was Gabby. So in came the man, the myth, the Capitals legend that is Dale "I-don't-care-if-the-game-is-over-Tergeon-I'm-going-to-destroy-you-anyway" Hunter. A man who excelled at both offense AND sitting in the penalty box. From the tales I've heard, every minute Dale wasn't in the penalty box, he was scoring goals. He was like our darling Sasha, only Canadian... and less enigmatic... and more of a bruiser than just clumsy with his stick... Whatever, everyone was stoked to have him back in red. What we learned quickly is that Dale loves playoff hockey. He wishes it was the playoffs all year. And as such, every game was tight... agonizingly, obnoxiously tight. I don't know what the statistics are on heart-attacks in the DC-Metro area, but I'd imagine that numbers multiplied extensively on game nights this season. Because Dale likes to keep things close, our Caps were on the very precipice of not making the playoffs at all. However, it seems that after 3/4 of a season, the team might've finally gotten the hang of playing like a playoff team just in time for the actual playoffs. Which is fantastic. However, there is an inherent danger in playing one-goal games... and that danger is that it only takes one freakin' goal to throw it all out the window. The Caps have never been very good at prevent defense until now, but even so, its not the most reliable way to win a game. And now the Caps are again on the precipice of not advancing.
The most frustrating thing about last night's game, and really all of the games before it, is that the Caps let up on the forecheck in the waning minutes/periods of a game in which they have the lead. I understand that you don't want to catch a bad break, but the other team cannot score if you are dominating their end and trying to score (or hey, maybe even scoring) on them. This is where taking a tip from old Gabby's playbook might not be such a bad idea. Put the pressure on! So what if you miss a great opportunity? Keep trying! Don't turn the puck over and let them dominate your end. Don't give them the opportunity to pull their goalie and put an extra attacker on, make their goalie work the full 60 minutes... crush his soul with mind-blowing slapshots and sneaky snipery wristers from the tops of the circles and perhaps the worst, crash the net and get him through the 5-hole. Look him in the eyes as you put that puck right through him and into the net. AND should you end up collapsing and letting the opposition into our own end, for Pete's sake win the face-off and CRASH THE EMPTY FREAKIN' NET!!! There it is, wide open! Waiting for you! Don't just lazily ice the puck into a corner... if you're going to ice it... ICE IT INTO THE NET SO IT COUNTS FOR SOMETHING!!! Or hey, why not skate it out of your zone and to the empty net? What a novel concept. Then, you score, the other team loses hope and even if they muster up enough energy to get a shot in goal, they're still down by 1 and you have won.
I may not know a whole lot about hockey, but some things just seem obvious. It is obvious to me that after all of the trials and tribulations of the season, the Washington Capitals have what it takes to make it to the Cup. And with that, here are some parting words from the inventor of Common Sense, Mr. Thomas Paine.
“The greatest remedy for
“Man did not enter
“We have it in our power to
“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress and grow....Go Caps!” - Thomas Paine