"And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make..."
- Lennon & McCartney
This final preview is bittersweet. On the one hand, it marks the merciful end to a rough season and the equally merciful commencement of what is shaping up to be a thrilling postseason. On the other hand, the Caps will be watching the playoffs from the sidelines like the rest of us once again, an occurrence that has become far too familiar over the last few years.
It's hard to look back at a season such as this and not simply be reminded of all the pain and suffering, the blown leads and fallen expectations, the failed experiments and the losses piling up like leaves in autumn. Year 2 of the great Capitals rebuild was almost as difficult as Year 1, complicated by the fact that occasionally we caught glimpses of the team we hoped to have. This team has found themselves at the center of controversy and as the butt of so many jokes. They've had on ice throwdowns and locker room meltdowns. It's been a roller coaster ride, to be sure.
We'll have all summer and most of the fall to speculate on what exactly went wrong, where the wheels started to come off, what needs to be done to right the ship - and we will. After all, what else are we going to do with all our spare time? Buying a ticket may give us the right to make an ass of ourselves, but it also gives us the right to pretend if ever so briefly that we are the GM, the coach, the player - to pretend that, were we wearing any of those hats we would do things differently. After all, there's no job easier than that of the fan. We sit back in our easy chairs, break open a beer, and wax poetic about how if we ran the team, things would be different. So and so would be traded, so and so signed; this guy would be fired, that one promoted; this line would be demolished, that one given more ice time, and all 6 of these guys would be looking for new jobs.
Complaining is in our nature. Finding the bright side is in mine. Still, I'm also not going to sit here and rehash all the positive things that happened this year although there were many - and if someone tries to say there wasn't, they obviously weren't watching the same team I was. There is a foundation here, the beginning of something that could potentially, down the line, become a contender. What is done with that foundation over the next few months will determine whether that "potentially" becomes "finally"...and there will be plenty of time to discuss that too.
For now, though, we turn our attention to the final game of the season. Buffalo stampedes into town this afternoon looking to roll into the playoffs with the President's Trophy held high. They must be feeling like they won the scheduling lottery, too, as they move on from DC after a meeting with the 14th place Caps...to a meeting tomorrow afternoon with the 15th place Flyers. But make no mistake, this Caps team wants to end the season on a high note too. There are no trophies in store for them, no first round match-ups to gear up for - it all comes down to the fight for jobs and the maintenance of pride.
It's safe to say that this game, like the last one between the Caps and Sabres, will be devoid of the controversy that swirled around the first two. Ovechkin had his questionable hit, Briere had his questionable spear, both sides have met in fisticuffs - and now Ovie and Le Petit Briere are friends. Go figure. But the saga continues with a new twist. It came at the trade deadline when Zubrus, unable to reach a deal for an extension, was shuffled off to Buffalo. In the first game against his old team Zubrus, while not dominant, was a factor in the game. Ovechkin's a competitive guy - you don't think he's going to let his old friend have the last word, do you?
Speaking of Ovechkin - he's played like a man possessed since the unfortunate iPod incident, picking up three goals in his last two games and dominating with or without the puck. Boyd Gordon's strong play continues as well, with five points in his last five games and a team-leading +11 pinned to his chest. Olie Kolzig will be in net to follow-up his shutout performance three years in the making. Don't forget the crop of youngsters all fighting for roster spots and a little last minute glory before the springtime scatters them into the wind.
And then there is the great beast that is the Verizon Center crowd. Sure, on most nights they would out-hush a graveyard, but opening and closing nights of the season are always much more raucous and well attended. Throw in a few thousand semi-drunk Buffalo fans (the game is at 1:00, people - I hope they're only semi-drunk) and the crowd is sure to be in full voice as we bid farewell to our boys...
It only seems right that I end this season with some sort of nicknames - much like the season itself, the continuance of the nickname phenomena has been both joyous and painful. Reluctant as I was to slave over a fresh set, I was given a brilliant solution by DC Sports Chick (whom I ran into, along with Chanuck, over at the Caps Alumni game - more on that later in the weekend when I can get the pics and vids uploaded...)
So I present...THE YEAR IN NICKNAMES! [aka CapsChick's favorite nicknames of the '06-'07 season]:
First the good guys –
Matt "Enrique" Bradley
John "I Don't Brake for Midgets" Erskine
Steve “I Heart Erskine” Eminger
Brian “Point Shot” Pothier
Ben “Petri Dish” Clymer
Alexander “Pop Fly” Semin
Alex “Wodka Cranberry” Ovechkin
Donald “Supermodel” Brashear
Ben "At Least I Can't Have Any -17 Children" Clymer (as submitted by rebellious reader Shelby)
And now the opposition slime –
Darius "A Nasty Case of" Kasparaitis
Darcy “Mother” Tucker
Brad “It’s a Glitch” Richards
Dany “Packing” Heatley (just for HG)
Anton “How Much Wood Could a” Babchuk
Cristobal “Hip Hip” Huet (just for DCSC)
Honestly as I was looking back, it seemed that there were some pretty sad ones tossed in the mix, which I won't even distinguish with a second appearance. Sufficed to say I must have been on something when I wrote some of these nicknames.
There you have it! Win or lose, I hope everyone enjoys the last outing of the season. Cheer loudly, ignore the Buffaslugs' invading hordes, and stick around to pay tribute to the team for their hard work this year. They deserve our continued support through these troubled times. When they come out on the other side, you can say you stuck with them when few people would...and that alone will make the torment worthwhile.