Let's get down to business
Let's accept the risk
We'll hold our ambition
Up with shaking fists
"Dragnet," by The D'Urbervilles
My belief that this 2008-09 Washington Capitals team is prepared and capable, perhaps even destined (perish the thought!), to win the Stanley Cup didn't emerge out of the undoubtedly impressive list of accomplishments achieved this regular season. No, those all provided a healthy measure of validation for sure. Instead, it originated over the summer, on Bastille Day, when it was confirmed that Sergei Fedorov re-signed with the club for what could be his final tour of duty in the NHL. He wanted to take that tour in front of the Washington faithful, in a Capitals sweater. And the organization made it happen, joining The Legend with the Young Guns, and thus putting Caps Nation on the verge of the unthinkable.
Recall the comments of GM George McPhee on the eve of the pact's confirmation:
"In talking to Sergei, he was pretty firm in what he wanted and what his value was. He's been a great player in this league, and we showed him respect and made it work."
"I saw the ability on the ice [but] I didn't think much about the leadership factor, although I should have. He was incredible. I couldn't have been more impressed with him. And the way the players talked about him in our season-end meetings made it clear that this is a guy we have to have back."
Chris Clark, the captain, remains the quiet leader of our band of heroes. A man who speaks with contemplation and great import, he's a general who picks his spots carefully. Mike Vogel once called him a John Wayne-type of character in the room. When he rises to speak, his teammates hang on every word.
But it is Feds who is the idol, the cultural liaison for Coach Boudreau, on a team which runs on a multi-headed Russian Machine.
He's the most-decorated of Russians, having played in two Olympics, two World Cups, a Canada Cup, and three World Junior Championships, and holding the record for most goals, and points, scored by a Russian-born NHL player. And having won three Stanley Cup championships. On a team with no other Cup winners, Fedorov brings a certain caché and quiet confidence never before seen in DC.
And so together with Clark and reigning Hart champion Alex Ovechkin, the leadership on this season's Capitals team is, unquestionably, the stuff from which champions are made.
June 13, 1998 was the most magical playoff evening to date for Capitals fans. Game three of the Stanley Cup Finals. In our building. No matter that the Caps trailed in the series 2-0, and that the team was behind in game three by a 1-0 score. When Brian Bellows scored the game-tying goal, all the pent-up emotion of Caps Nation, waiting since at least Dale Hunter's legendary Game 7 goal in April of 1988 against the Flyers to be unleashed again, burst out to rival a sonic boom.
But the euphoria was so perilously short-lived. Midway through the third period, Fedorov, on a breakaway, drilled a game-winning shot past Olaf Kolzig that would leave the dream deferred another year. (Or eleven.)
Sitting high in the 400's of the MCI Center that night, the effective dénouement having just unfolded, I was awe-struck. It was as if the gods dangled the delicious fruits of the ultimate prize in front of us, and then punished us for our insolence in believing that we could taste them. The Caps had no such legendary talent who could end a game so decisively. This was beyond our comprehension.
Today, we do. The Caps not only have Ovechkin to gamely fill that role, but also that same player who defeated (in spirit, if not yet mathematically) the upstart Caps almost eleven years ago. The last time the Caps have won a single playoff series.
The hockey gods are with us, now.
And today, Washington is the hockey town. Not so much because the team plays before a full, red-clad house virtually every night. Or because the sales department is beginning to utter two unthinkable words: "waiting list." Because Sergei says it is.
Besides hockey, what else can lift Fedorov’s mood?
"A sunny day."
That’s all you need to be happy?
"Yup. I lived in Detroit for a long time. Once winter sets in, the entire sky is covered in clouds, and it stays that way until spring. I only saw the sun when we went on road trips. When you rise up above the clouds you look and – ahh, there it is.
"Then I played in Anaheim. But the sun isn’t the same there. I’m a man of four seasons. When you have summer all the time, you get tired of it.
"But Washington I like. You get sun here almost every day. I caught myself thinking: it’s better here than in California! And the air is good, moist."
Putting aside the incredulity you might except from a comment that Washington weather is more agreeable than that of California, I see a lovely metaphor in there.
In the difficult annals of Washington Capitals history that have damaged even the heartiest of optimistic souls, the weather has been mostly overcast, dreary. Only fleeting glimpses of the sun's rays, a momentary grace of warmth before another mostly cloudy forecast. For some time now, however, those clouds have been parting in a more lasting fashion.
As the Caps embark upon the voyage of this long-anticipated second season, dream of how beautiful could be the glint of the Stanley Cup hoisted on a radiant June day in the District, in a parade down Constitution Avenue. One more victory parade for The Legend.