Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Rockin' the Phone Booth

Last night's game certainly wasn't for the faint of heart...nor should it have been.

The Caps and Canes exchanged bone-crushing checks, glamorous saves, end to end rushes, odd-man breaks, even injuries to key players. It had the look, feel and sound of a playoff game. It was what every great division rivalry should be - it was what the league intended when it force-fed the nauseating parade of lukewarm foes down our throats.

In short this game was exactly what it needed to be when a division title is on the line, and the Caps played exactly the way they needed to play with their season on the line.

Every player to a man felt the energy and the desperation and acted on it, resulting in role reversals all over the place. Green had 8 shots on goal and two assists. Ovechkin blocked two shots, took a roughing call and won a faceoff. Semin laid out three huge body checks in the first period. Bradley had one of the best chances of the night only to be stonewalled by Cam Ward.

It was a standout performance for many Caps. Semin had one of his best games of the year despite making his usual turnovers and taking his nightly (albeit very weak) hooking penalty. Fleischmann continued his stretch of solid work with a stellar centering feed to a rushing Brooks Laich to put the Caps up 2-0. Schultz's usual quiet nature produced an assist and two attempted shots. Matt Cooke was all over the place, getting into the faces of his opponent and creating some good offensive chances as well. The line of Bradley, Gordon and Brashear put on a puck possession clinic for a good part of the second period.

But the standouts only emphasized the complete team game this really was. Consider the fact that with only five defensemen this team still limited the Canes to just one goal and 22 shots. It speaks volumes about how well they played defense, from the goalie out to the top forward line. Despite the somewhat lopsided score, this was not a Carolina team that simply rolled over and died - in fact if not for a bit of luck and a few bizarre calls this game gets a lot closer and fast. But the Caps smothered the high-powered Carolina offense and what they didn't stop, Huet did.

And then there was the crowd. The mythological 7th man, if you will, loud and boisterous and primed for battle before the puck even dropped. It was something special to be sure - just ask the players, watch their war-weary faces light up into bright, childlike smiles at the mere mention of last night's crowd. It was the best ever, they say. Unbelievable. Loud. Fantastic. It's never been this good.

It wasn't just the sheer volume of the crowd or the fact that everyone seemed to buy into the "Red Out", although the impact of those things in combination should not be overlooked.

No, it was the spontaneity. We certainly heeded the clarian calls of Horn Guy and Goat, their distinctive voices piercing the air and leading us in unison, and we responded when implored by the PA announcer to make some noise. But it was the dull roar during the offensive rush, the applause for the simple act of clearing a puck, the oohs and aahs and groans when a brilliant play connected or went awry.

It was the hearty boos for the Hurricanes when they stepped onto the ice, and the resounding cheers when a Cap planted the opposition into the boards. It was the standing ovation at the end of the first. And the second. And the third.

It's that spontaneity and that electric, contagious buzz that sets apart the holy hockey houses from the mundane barns of the NHL - and last night DC had its Forum, its Maple Leaf Gardens, its Boston Garden.

Yet there was still something distinctly "Capitals" about it, something that sets the Phone Booth apart from these shrines of hockey - it was a celebration filled with character and humor and passion you only find here in DC. At one point last night Ovechkin urged the crowd to make more noise and was greeted with an eruption of cheers. A few minutes later the humble coach was shown on the screen to be met with more cheers and chants of "Bruuuuce" filling the air, a faint pink hue on his cheeks the only sign that he heard us. In front of him it was Matt Cooke's turn to urge the crowd on and again we responded. It was exciting and fantastic and a rush.

And it's something that has been missing for far too long.

So this morning we soak our weary feet in warm water to ease the throbbing from jumping up and down. We sip soothing cups of tea to heal the soreness in our throats from screaming and cheering all night. And we check off item number one on the to-do list: Beat the Canes in regulation. Done.

Now the next step is Tampa, a team that is not exactly going down quietly and that a week ago gave the Caps quite a scare before finally succumbing in overtime. Consistency is obviously an issue (and has been all year long), as they rebounded from a surprise upset over the Canes with a 2-0 loss at the hands of slumping Atlanta.

In the meantime there's lots of scoreboard watching to be done, as there always seems to be. Carolina, Philadelphia and Boston are all in action tonight and should any one of them falter, you can bet the Caps will be watching.

And waiting to jump in.


sonia said...

reading your description of the game gave me chills! i wish i could have been there! GO CAPS!!!!

Tyler said...

After watching the Pens play the last several games on TV, I decided that I needed some live hockey, so I went down and got some tickets to the game last night. Knowing that a good match-up was sure to happen, fighting for the division. What a good decision that was!! Imagine a Pens fan, who wore red, who by the third period was standing up with everyone around him, cheering for AO after he scored his 63rd. It was nice to see so many people in DC getting into hockey. The only issue I had was that with it being popular, the lines for beer are long!!

Here's looking forward to a Pens-Caps playoff match.

amberlynne said...

I've been a hockey fan for a long time but that may have been the most exciting hockey experience I've ever had. I feel a little hungover from it all even though I skipped the beer. I can't wait until Thursdays game!

GrayCalx said...

I agree with Amber, I feel hungover today from the excitement and noise of the phone booth last night. What a game and what a crowd... finally, in DC. My favorite part was cheering when they showed the coach on the big screen. The players looking back at him, teasing him a bit, he finally let loose one teensy-tiny smirk.