Get out the Kleenex, it’s over. It’s hard for the Washington Capitals not to ask “what if?”
What if Joel Ward didn’t take a high sticking double minor in game five to let the Rangers sneak back into it? What if Alex Ovechkin didn’t fan on the one-timer in the final moments of game seven? There’s nothing but what ifs and heart break when you lose by the slimmest of margins like the Capitals did all post-season long. Of the Capitals’ seven playoff losses, six of them were by just one goal and last night was no different losing 2-1 to the Rangers in game seven.
The Capitals’ storybook season has closed in tragic fashion. If you recall, our story started with the Caps opening the season on a seven game winning streak. What followed was a losing skid, then coach Bruce Boudreau was fired and Ovechkin continued to flounder posting career worst numbers. Things didn’t look up after there was a blow to the head of Nick Backstrom─and to the Caps’ season─that left the team without their star for over half the year.
It was looking as if Dale Hunter wouldn’t be able to salvage much with this team. The home stretch came and the Capitals had a death grip on the eighth and final playoff spot. We all started to do the math on the Caps’ season and when it started to look like the Caps may just miss the playoffs for the first time in four years, they secured a playoff spot in the second last game of the season. By now, Capitals fans were already drinking Pepto-Bismol straight out of the bottle, but that tension was only amplified in the playoffs.
Once the Caps had secured a playoff spot by the skin of their teeth they were already without veteran goaltender Tomas Vokoun who reaggravated a groin injury that had him out of the lineup for a good portion of the season. It was backup Michal Neuvirth at the helm. Neuvirth lasted all of three games before being carried off the ice midway through a must-win game for the Caps in the second last game of the season.
From there on in it was all resting on the shoulders of an inexperienced 22-year-old American League goaltender to drive the Caps to the Cup, and he got closer than anyone would have guessed. The rest is now history and it was heartbreaking, but if you’re a seasoned Caps fan you should be desensitized to playoff disappointment by now. Let’s try and glean some lessons from these playoffs and reflect on what the Caps were able to prove.
What the Washington Capitals taught us:
- Shot blocking isn’t just for the PK.
- “Boring hockey” is fun to watch. You can make games exciting for fans by playing defensive hockey because it’s so damn tense.
- You can bench star players and win.
- The Boston Bruins aren’t that scary.
- Joel Ward taught us how quickly things can change. One week you’re the town’s hero, the next you have to wear a paper bag.
- Dale Hunter has little fashion sense.
- Goalies are weird.
- Nicklas Backstrom can hit.
- Nicklas Backstrom can be suspended. Who knew?
And the final lesson the 2011-2012 Washington Capitals imparted on us all:
- Losing sucks; it’s never like it is in the movies.
In the end, the Capitals met their match and were given a taste of their own after the Rangers held down a 1-0 lead from the first few moments of the game until the final period. The Rangers turned out to be just as capable as the Caps at playing “Hunter Hockey.”
Yesterday the Caps were cresting the momentum of a game six win and today there’s a lot of questions to be answered and players to be held accountable, but that’s for another post. Yesterday was such an easy game to play and now I leave your unquenchable sorrows with this tune to play us out as you hang up your tear soaked and chicken wing stained jerseys for another season.
Matt Stephen is a writer, not a fighter. He is both a beer and fantasy league veteran and has written about hockey online and in print for The Hockey News. He now covers the spectrum from the White House to Mike Green. He carries a picture of Ovechkin in his wallet.