This team is so fun.
No, really. It would be boring if they insisted on playing one way the entire season, consistently well or consistently badly, let alone within one game. Playoff race shmayoff race, it's much more fun this way - keeps us on our toes, we never really know what we're going to get.
Except when it comes to the great #8. With him, what you see is what you get night in and night out. Passion. Exuberance. Skill. Magic. The ability to put an entire team on his back and carry them out of the doldrums to a sparkling comeback win...all while notching his 60th goal of the year.
This game was three games in one, a three act play consisting of drama and tragedy and comdey and ultimate redemption. If you watched it all the way through and didn't feel winded by the end, well...you clearly weren't watching it right.
Our heroes take the ice, purported favorites in a battle against those hapless underdogs, the Atlanta Thrashers. The two teams circle one another, the heroes tentative, unsure, gunshy...they are after all still reeling from two nights before and in an effort to avoid a repeat they move slowly. Carefully. Don't make a mistake, don't get too flashy. A few good chances either way but a slow period, a boring one.
#8 takes center stage. He loops with his young upstart centerman, criss-crosses the ice as calmly as if he is walking across a street, and fires a shot between the gaping pads of a stunned Kari Lehtonen. 1-0 for the heroes. There is much rejoicing, high fives and songs of praise.
A plot twist - the heroes' alter egos take their places, true doppelgangers in every aspect except talent and drive. The scrappy underdogs aren't about to let the heroes slip away with a one goal lead. They pounce on a power play chance, the young Swede from the cagey veterans making it a tie game.
Then it happens. A bad bounce, a bad pass, a bad look and a power play for the heroes turns into a nightmare. A man who has never scored on our heroes is suddenly on the board with the go-ahead goal, one that seems to deflate the team and the fans.
Nine minutes later...the nightmare continues. The lights darken, fog filters out onto the ice, the men in white are on the ropes and looking as though they're about to fall. The underdogs will have their day and it will be against our heroes, another defeat with just twenty minutes of bad work and twenty minutes left to right the wrong. It doesn't seem possible.
Enter the great #8.
He takes the ice along with his linemates and sets the new game in motion, whirling and twirling around a stunned group of underdogs with a renewed passion and vigor. The rest follow. It is a brand new day, the heroes have reemerged, vanquished their doppelgangers to reclaim their rightful place atop the throne.
Shot after shot is fired, turned away with increasing difficulty by the mighty Lehtonen. It's only a matter of time now, only a matter of time until...
3-2. 60. In the moment it is a goal that cuts the deficit in half; in the eyes of history it is a marker that continues to cement the Gr8 One as truly among the greats.
And then the burden of getting the win at all costs falls to our young Swede, baby-faced and unassuming, the setup man, rarely the hero. He does something he never does - he shoots the puck. It goes in. The team explodes. The tide is turning, you can feel it, and the score is even at 3. Suddenly the energy is flowing through everyone, the team, the fans...something is happening here.
32 seconds later it's the young Swede again, a blistering top corner shot that gives our heroes the lead. The young Swede is chased by the great #8 and all five players on the ice congregate in the corner, bouncing and screaming with unbridled exuberance. It is a moment of pure joy amid the stunned Atlanta faithful, shared by the fans at home and the lucky few who made the journey to see it live.
An undefended net yields a fifth tally...and the curtain falls on a thrilling end.
Okay, maybe it wasn't as dramatic as that - but watching it at home you could almost hear the sweeping strains of the orchestra in the background, see the stage lighting and the suspense-creating cuts and flashes. It was a night when the dramatic was what was needed and the Caps delivered, a spectacular win to end a stretch of playing not-so-spectacular.
And in the end what it comes down to is two points sorely needed by the Caps. With the Flyers pulling ahead of Boston and Buffalo falling to the Leafs the Caps amazingly close the gap for eighth to just one point. The 8th place Bruins hold two games in hand on the Caps, one of which will disappear tonight - against the Habs, a team that has beaten them ten consecutive times.
For tonight, at least, we're all Canadiens fans.
The Caps get a little breather now before facing the mighty Hurricanes of Carolina - and we get a little breather to recover from a night that was truly a showcase of the worst and the best this team has to offer. And when the best wins out...that's a great night.
All photos courtesy of AP
Saturday, March 22, 2008
This team is so fun.