Sunday, April 06, 2008

Bring It On

It's been a long stretch of emotional ups and downs over the past few months - for the team and the fans.

But there was no greater emotional high than the moment the clock ticked down to zero last night, signalling the end of the 2007-08 regular season - and the beginning of the Caps' first playoff run since 2003.

Phrases like "Cinderella story", "team of destiny", "dream" and "fantasy" have been tossed around all over the place in the last 24 hours, and in many ways each of them rings true. What shouldn't be overlooked, however, is how much of this fate and destiny and fantasy stuff is aided by pure skill and talent and drive.

Left for dead early in the season, the Caps changed coaches, changed mentalities, and changed the minds of an entire league...and all in just four months. What they've accomplished is amazing, but it's what lies ahead that could be even more so. And it begins, just like this playoff push, with a single step. We celebrate for a day and then it's time to move on to the Philadelphia Flyers.

But for this one day of celebration, let's look back on what was accomplished this year:

- Ten players with double-digit goal totals, seventeen with double-digit points, and our backup goalie ending up as the only player without a point on the season...heck, even our top two goalies picked up a pair of assists apiece.

- A season for the ages from Alex Ovechkin - 65 goals and 47 assists, a plus/minus of +28, 22 power play goals, 11 game-winning goals, 446 shots on goal, and the best damn goal celebrations in the league.

- A breakout season for Nicklas Backstrom, who passed Alex Ovechkin's franchise record for rookie assists with 55, picked up 14 goals including 3 game-winners, and generated serious buzz for his responsible play on both ends of the ice. If he's not at least considered for the Calder Trophy, I quit.

- First NHL goals: Nicklas Backstrom, Dave Steckel, Quintin Laing, Jeff Schultz

- Mike Green becoming the league leader among defenseman with 18 goals - and earning a new nickname, "Game Over", for his franchise record three OT goals.

- Brooks Laich earning career highs in goals (21) and assists (16), not to mention a faceoff percentage over 50% in half of the games this season.

- 300 career wins for Olie Kolzig, all with the Capitals, earned in a 3-2 victory against the Flames that helped the team bounce back from a weekend that could have derailed their playoff hopes. (Happy 38th Birthday, Godzilla!!)

- All but 7 of the 27 players on the roster finishing the season at even or with a plus rating.

- Wins in ten of the last eleven, fourteen of the last eighteen games - including a seven game winning streak to finish out the regular season. That's the longest streak since 1993.

- A 24 point improvement over last year's total and jumping from last place in the division a year ago to their first Southeast Division title in seven years.

- A record of 37-14-7 since changing coaches on Thanksgiving Day.

- Contributions, both tangible and intangible, from the new additions brought in since July 1:

  • Viktor Kozlov - a key part of the shootout victory over Carolina, sure, but more than that he provided a solid winger who developed great chemistry with Ovechkin and Backstrom. His +28 is tied with Ovie for best on the team and his 54 points is fourth best on the team.
  • Tom Poti - after a slow start, Poti really began to emerge as a consistent and solid blueliner under Boudreau and has become one of the stalwarts among the defensive corps. He's provided a steady hand on the power play and a calming influence in his own zone, while his 27 assists are second among defensemen and seventh on the team.
  • Michael Nylander - before falling out of the lineup with season-ending shoulder surgery, Nylander provided the dazzling moves with the puck we all remember while helping fellow Swede Backstrom adjust to life in the US and the NHL.
  • Matt Cooke - this team had flashy scorers, big, sturdy defensemen, and gritty forwards; what they were missing was an agitator. That role has been more than competently filled by Cooke, quickly making him a fan favorite and a thorn in the side of every team we've played.
  • Sergei Fedorov - better than advertised, better than expected, and an acquisition whose impact has solidified this team's image as a contender just with his mere presence. He's done everything asked of him and more, all while humbly and happily accepting the role of veteran mentor to a young team of upstarts...something that becomes even more important in the playoffs.
  • Cristobal Huet - for those of us hopelessly devoted to Olie, Huet's acquisition was a bittersweet one. But as Kolzig welcomed him with open arms the rest of us did, too, and his nine straight wins speak for themselves. So does his 11-2-0 record, including two shutouts, since coming to DC.
And so the next chapter of the 2007-08 campaign begins against a familiar foe with a new look - one that we haven't faced in postseason play in almost 20 years but that remains a hated rival.

Bring on Philly...it's playoff time!

1 comment:

kristin said...

I really really really don't wanna play you guys! We're supposed to hate the Pens, not each other!

dang!