"We heard them. [Matt Bradley] was like, 'The fans wanted it, and I am a fan favorite, so I had to give them what they wanted." - Brooks Laich, on the fans chanting "we want 10" with the Caps up 9-2
There are a number of ways to look at this game - feel free to pick your favorite.
One way would be to write it off as yet another chapter of the Caps' ongoing inconsistencies, off one night and on the next. Just one more reason why a postseason berth is not only out of reach but also not advisable. They can't keep it together for any length of time, they don't know how to get a lead/hold a lead/put together a string of wins.
Another would be to look at this recent stretch and point to it as the third dominant performance in the last four games, the third time in four games the Caps scored four or more goals against a hot goaltender, and the second time in three games the Caps ended another team's winning streak.
Or you could just look at it as a simply thrilling, amazing, incredible performance, built on a foundation of Ovechkin's talent, by a team that is starting to find its way. Whether that way is on the road to the playoffs is not yet known, but the way the Caps came out last night - came out and didn't let up - was enough to give even the most jaded fan hope for the future.
First things first, though: in case you haven't heard, Alex Ovechkin is a beast. Three goals (numbers 50, 51 and 52 which ties a career high), two assists, and step aside Mr. Malkin - there's a new sheriff in town. It was the kind of performance that not only had you believing once more that he could reach the 60-goal mark, you started to think he could do it by the final horn.
Everything he touched seemed to turn to gold; it was the Ovechkin of January, not the one recently mired in a 7-game slump. He was everywhere, doing everything, and we were all treated to that familiar gap-toothed smile once more.
But he wasn't the only one grinning tonight. When all was said and done fifteen different players had registered a point in the definition of a team win. Only Semin, Laich and Fedorov were in the minus column (all -1), and only Morrisonn and Green were even. Seven different players registered multi-point games; three different players had multi-goal games. Donald Brashear even had a multi-fight game...sort of.
Everyone, from wide-eyed rookie to seasoned vet to longtime Cap to brand new face had a role. Matt Cooke made his presence known early with his first goal as a Cap just over thirty seconds in, then followed it up with a bruising four hit performance and two assists.
Fedorov may have been held off the scoresheet pointswise but he won eleven of his sixteen draws, made some nice passes and certainly wasn't invisible. And before leaving the game after the second period (a purely precautionary move after experiencing some back spasms), Huet had turned away 20 of the 22 shots he faced.
Even better is the fact that the Caps, old and new, did it all in front of a huge audience - the fans continue to fill the seats and let their cheers ring from the rafters as the Caps continue their winning ways. Official attendance figures put tonight's game at 17,189...for a Monday night game. Unheard of in recent years when a different gold and black clad team isn't in town, that's for sure. Add in those of us watching on Versus and on TSN up in Canada, and you've got hundreds of thousands of people checking out the Caps and being treated to a phenomenal game. Nothing sells the rest of the hockey world on this team better than showing them firsthand.
We always like to say that a game like this is the elusive 60-minute game this team always looks for yet rarely finds. After all, there were little moments of confusion and the Bruins did get on the board twice, but there was never a sense that the game was in jeopardy, never a sense the Caps would let up. As the horn sounds we ready ourselves for the inevitable feeling of landing back on earth, always waiting for the other shoe to drop and the team to revert back to their bad habits the next time out.
But is such a game so elusive anymore? Does that blasted shoe really have to drop?
Go back and look at the last four games again. In the last four games only once did this team look outclassed and outworked for any stretch of time, and then it wasn't a case of taking off a period or two so much as it was not showing up at all. They took on three elite teams to get their three wins in this most recent stretch, outscoring their defensive-minded opponents 18-3. Two of their last four were of the coveted "game in hand" variety, and they won both - decisively. They're still very much alive in both the race for Southeast Division champ and the race for 8th in the conference, sitting three and four points out respectively. Inconsistencies? Or growing pains? You decide.
Regardless, it can't be denied that this team has been given a jolt. Maybe it's the new players adding a bit of life to the lineup. Maybe it's the young guys finally recognizing what the playoff push looks and feels like, what it takes to win against the league's best. Maybe it's just time for this team.
What matters now is that, like the team, we don't get too high with the highs. A win is a win is a win, two points no matter how many goals you score.
Translation? This game means more only if the next game is a win...fifteen games left, buckle up.
All photos courtesy of WashingtonCaps.com