Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Defining Moments

Okay, that does it. No more moping.

It's been an emotional few weeks around here - the Caps are out, the Habs are out, Olie is out, and sadly Sid's playoff beard continues to be missing in action. Tough times all around.

Rather than wallowing in misery and trying to pretend hockey doesn't exist right now, it's better to admit that the daily Redskins report on Washington Post Live just isn't doing it for us anymore. Hockey continues on, with or without the Caps.

There are still playoff games to be played and this big silver cup thingy to be handed out in the coming weeks. But even more importantly for our purposes there is much to discuss about the past season of the Washington Capitals. It's time to delve into an all-encompassing look back, a stroll down memory lane, a brush with nostalgia to see where we've been...and keep our minds occupied in case of the impending doom that is a potential Red Wings-Penguins Stanley Cup Final.

We'll look at the performance of every player on the team, evaluate the different areas of depth, talk about prospects, special teams and free agents (those on the team now and those that could be added this summer). After all, the summer is long and hot and filled with minimal activity - what the hell else are we going to do?

But first let's just see where this team has been this year with a look at ten games that defined the season:

October 12, 2007 - Rangers 3, Capitals 1: After a three-game winning streak to kick off the new season, the Caps and their fans were flying pretty high. They went into Madison Square Garden, a place that has never treated them well, hoping to do something they hadn't done in a long time - win four in a row to start the season.

The Rangers only needed one period to make sure that didn't happen as they rattled off three power play goals in the first period to the Caps' single marker, outshooting the visitors 20-7 in the opening frame alone. The loss would be the first of four straight for the Caps, who would win only three times in the next eighteen.

November 8, 2007 - Capitals 4, Senators 1: It was the ultimate David vs. Goliath matchup. The Senators were an amazing 12-1 to start the year and sat atop the Eastern Conference, the Caps on yet another 4-game losing skid and toying with the bottom of the league. No one thought the Caps would emerge from Scotiabank Place alive, let alone with a win - yet the Caps did the impossible. They felled the giant.

At the time it seemed like a fluke, that Ottawa simply took the Caps too lightly and paid the price. But after the Caps swept the season series it seemed this was just an early harbinger of the very different paths these two teams would take. Washington would gradually gain momentum over the course of the season and rocket themselves into the playoffs, while Ottawa would back into the postseason with one of the worst records in the league since January and find themselves quickly swept out by the Penguins.

November 21, 2007 - Atlanta 5, Washington 1: The final game of the Glen Hanlon era was the ultimate of defining moments for this team, and yet very little needs to be said. Anyone who followed the team this year remembers the game and the aftermath well. The loss gave the Caps their first five-game losing streak of the year; chants of "Fire Hanlon" filled the nearly empty arena and the team looked sluggish, defeated.

And the next morning, Thanksgiving Day, Bruce Boudreau took over the reins of the club and began his quest to turn the team around. The rest, as they history.

November 23, 2007 - Washington 4, Philadelphia 3: The first game of the Boudreau era was in many ways an amalgam of the old and the new, a sign that this team was on the right track and yet still had so far to go. The Caps came out hard and jumped to a three goal lead but gradually let the Flyers back in the game with three goals of their own, including the tying marker with just over four minutes left in regulation.

It was Nicklas Backstrom who would cap off a spectacular individual performance with the overtime winner - his third point of the game, the perfect way to celebrate his 20th birthday and the new coaching regime as the losing streak came to an end. It would take the team awhile longer to adapt to the system changes and a few missing pieces were still waiting in the wings, but this win marked the ultimate turning point of the Caps' season.

January 31, 2008 - Washington 5, Montreal 4: After being shut out just two nights earlier by the Habs, the Caps were looking for vindication and got it in the form of an overtime win. There were moments of stunning greatness and moments of forehead slapping at both ends of the ice in what was ultimately a thrilling, physical battle.

But if you were there or saw it on TV, you will remember one thing about this game - it was Alex Ovechkin's night from beginning to end. After a broken nose, stitches, four goals, five points and the overtime winner, the game cemented Ovechkin as the ultimate all-around player and earned him praise from teammates and fans alike. It was a truly amazing moment in an MVP-worthy season for the great #8.

February 26, 2008 - Washington 4, Minnesota 1: As the furious movement of the trade deadline wore down, there was still a game to be played by the new-look Capitals - even without any of their new additions in uniform that night. Brooks Laich made a statement with the first four-point game of his career, scoring two goals and assisting on the other two.

And Olie Kolzig made a statement of his own on the same day that a new goaltender was brought in, turning aside all but one fluky goal in one of his most dominant performances of the season.

March 19, 2008 - Chicago 5, Washington 0: Down the stretch the Caps knew that they would have to be near-perfect in their season high six game road trip, with the margin of error being one or two losses at the most. Unfortunately for Olie Kolzig that one loss they did give up came on a night when he was in net, when everything the 'Hawks touched went in...and nothing the Caps touched did. It wasn't Olie's best game to be sure, but the loss was more a result of the team in front of him not showing up than his inability to keep the puck out.

Regardless, the next game Huet was in net and he would go on to win all his remaining games en route to the postseason. The loss against Chicago would be Olie's final game in a Caps uniform.

April 1, 2008 - Washington 4, Carolina 1: After a six-game road trip, the Caps returned home for the final three games of the year - and a meeting with division-leading Carolina. The outcome would determine who, for the time being at least, would hold the Southeast crown. Feeding off the momentum of a successful road swing and a raucous red-clad crowd, the Caps took control of the game late in the first and never looked back.

Ten different players registered points in the win, the first of three straight that would eventually propel the team over the Hurricanes in the standings and into the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

April 19, 2008 - Washington 3, Philadelphia 2: Over the course of the season it seemed that the Caps played better when their backs were against the wall. Never were they against the wall more, though, then Game 5 of the Conference Quarterfinals. Down 3-1 in the series, they returned home to DC looking to stave off elimination for another day and from the initial drop of the puck played the desperate style of hockey they would need, staying alive and forcing a Game 6.

April 22, 2008 - Philadelphia 3, Washington 2: The final game of the season was in many ways a controversial one, with confusing calls and a disputable OT penalty leading to the game-winning power play strike.

But it should be looked at as so much more. For a team that was resilient all season long, coming from behind in the standings, in games, and in the series, forcing a Game 7 after being down 3-1 was in itself an achievement. The team that showed up for this game played well enough to give Caps fans everywhere hope that next year it won't be a first round exit that ends the season, it won't be a playoff berth earned by the slimmest of margins. It marked the end of the 2007-08 campaign - but it was hopefully the beginning of a lot more.


exwhaler said...

Great list--I had forgotten about the first game against Ottawa this season. That was a shocker.

The Chicago game always should be bookended with the next one--the gutsy win against Atlanta with 4goals in the third period to comeback and win. That win stands out as much as the Montreal game for me.

Kim said...

I was thinking about that Atlanta game too. In fact, it was after that game that I just knew the Caps were going to make it.

I was actually really ticked off in the first two periods of that Atlanta game (mad because I thought the season was over). I have not screamed as loud as I did when Nicky scored the second of his two third period goals.

The April 1st game was awesome too. The only weeknight game we took my little girl to. She got a puck from Huet during pregame warmup. Hopefully she will be able to get it signed next season. Talk about a good luck charm!

I also really remember the 10-2 smackdown of the Bruins. Mostly because of Alex's #50. However, Matt Bradley scoring a Power Play goal and his quote about being a fan favorite still makes me smile.

Mike Green's overtime goal against the Rangers also stands out in my mind as a memorable game. And since I am still smiling about Matt Bradley, the 11 or 12th round shootout goal he scored will be a moment from this past season that I will not soon forget.

Is it July yet?