It still feels like some sort of surreal dream that we're even here right now...but here we are. Almost a week to the day the Caps clinched the Southeast Division, the curtain rises on a new postseason and we sit on the cusp of the first playoff game in DC in many years - and the first playoff game period for many of our players (and our coach).
If you're like me, this past week has been a true exercise in patience, meditation and many, many types of sedatives. So let's get this puppy going, shall we?
Who: Southeast Division Champion Washington Capitals vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Where: Verizon Center
When: Friday, April 11, 7:00 pm
Broadcast Info: CSN, Versus
Washington Capitals Website
Philadelphia Flyers Website
Washington Times - Hershey boys all grown up
Washington Times - Veteran Experience
Washington Post - The Bullies are back
Washington Post - The world's team
Culpeper Star-Exponent (...swear to god)
Philadelphia Inquirer - Marty Biron likes to talk
Philadelphia Inquirer - Last 9 games key for Flyers
Philadelphia Daily News - Briere needed rest
Courier-Post - Briere has unfinished business
Courier-Post - Goalies inexperienced
The Bulletin - How to stop the Caps
National Post - Ovechkin ready
...and those are just the ones that popped up first.
The first game of any playoff series is always a little strange. Both teams are tentative, nervous, unwilling to make a mistake - it's rare that the first game becomes a thrilling moment in sports history.
You have to think the way both of these teams finished out their seasons combined with the long break since they last played will create a bit more energy than usual. The Caps have one more day of rest - technically (although the way the Pens played Sunday it's not like the Flyers are worn out) - but each team has had about a week off after ending the season on a high note.
For this first game, then, expect the unexpected. The hometown crowd is going to be pumped and you can bet the Caps will feed off of that, but no one more than the great #8 himself. It's moments like this that the Russian Machine was made for; local spotlight, national spotlight, international spotlight...all eyes trained on the little Phone Booth in the middle of Chinatown.
We've been hearing all week how this will be a physical series, a bloodbath, a body-thumping, bruising war to end all wars. Whether that's true remains to be seen, and it's very possible that all the hype will in the end lead to nothing particularly special. But it should be a good hard-fought series regardless and the Caps will need to set the physical tone early - not because they can't keep up with the Flyers otherwise but because they should remind people that this is also a physical team.
Just look at how the hits break down after the regular season for proof of that.
One storyline to keep an eye on in this series will be the potential return of the walking wounded for both teams. In the final few games for the Caps they lost Morrisonn and Schultz to injury; both are expected back soon and hope to be in for game 1. On the final night of the season we also heard a rumor straight from the horse's mouth that captain Chris Clark will hopefully return soon (although we've heard that before and will believe it when we see it).
For the Flyers, they'll probably have Daniel Briere back after sitting out the last game of the year with a knee injury. They'll also possibly see the return of their captain, Jason Smith, who missed the last few games with an upper body injury, and in the first couple of games they'll likely get human pylon Derian Hatcher back as well.
We've talked about how these two teams match up in the past few days - offense, defense, and special teams - and we'll talk about intangibles later today. All that's left is to play the game. Remember to wear red, cheer loud and help our boys on to victory!
And finally, in honor of the playoffs, the Cheap Seats is proud to present...the return of the nicknames.
19-Scott "Rodgers and" Hartnell, 48-Daniel "the Magical Spearing Midget" Briere, 40-Vinny "Live Long and" Prospal
20-RJ "Heads Up" Umberger, 18-Mike "Ovechkin Lite" Richards, 15-Joffrey "Hatcher? RUUUN!" Lupul
9-Scottie "Doesn't Know" Upshall, 17-Jeff "Jimmy" Carter, 22-Mike "Kiss and" Knuble
32-Riley "*expletive deleted*" Cote, 34-Jim "Graybeard" Dowd, 25-Patrick "God of Thunder" Thoresen
5-Braydon "James" Coburn, 44-Kimmo "Pumbaa and" Timonen
6-Randy "YMCA" Jones, 21-Jason "Gator" Smith
26-Jaroslav "à la" Modry, 28-Lasse "Short Order" Kukkonen
30-Antero Niittymaki, 43-Martin "I don't lie and I don't whine" Biron
8-Alex "M-V-P" Ovechkin, 19-Nicklas "Peach Fuzz" Backstrom, 25-Viktor "the Professor" Kozlov
28-Alexander "No-Look" Semin, 91-Sergei "Clutch" Fedorov, 24-Matt "C is for" Cooke
43-Tomas "Flash" Fleischmann, 21-Brooks "Unsung Hero" Laich, 15-Boyd "the Big Goalscorer" Gordon
87-Donald "Puttin' on the Foil" Brashear, 39-Dave Steckel, 10-Matt "Captain Planet" Bradley
26-Shaone "Safety Net" Morrisonn, 52-Mike "Rockin' the 'Hawk" Green
3-Tom "The Man" Poti, 55-Jeff "Body Injury" Schultz
4-John "Damn It" Erskine, 23-Milan "Juice" Jurcina
37-Olie "300" Kolzig, 38-Cristobal "Hip Hip" Huet
As the series progresses, feel free to chime in with your own nickname suggestions via email or comment - creativity is always welcome here in the Cheap Seats.
And on that note...DROP THE PUCK!