We're so close to something better left unknown. The team is on the verge of a shocking and stupendous collapse. The kind that could lead to a Tony K. return to WaPo just to write one more "Choking Dogs" column. This feels all too familiar.
From the brilliantly sunny and hot days in mid-July in which I sat ensconced at Kettler, watching the rookies at camp take flight and begin The Dream, I have been filled with nothing but optimism about this season, and fantasies of what Les Capitals may end up doing with a certain holy grail the following June.
Slowly and methodically, I put to rest the regions of my hockey mind bludgeoned by two decades of disappointment as a Capitals fan. I assured myself that these were not the hard work and hard luck Caps of old, nor were they the supremely talented but incohesive teams of the mercifully brief Jaromir Jagr era.
As if in lockstep with the recommendations of a cognitive therapist, I repeated positive mantra to myself when reality seemed rough, such as in mid-October, when our team found itself behind 3-0 in Pittsburgh. Miraculously, in unprecedented fashion, they stormed back to grasp victory.
Against these very same tormenters of present, the New York Rangers, the Yuletide Miracle on 34th Street will also not be soon forgotten.
These Caps seemed to prove themselves worthy of mention as a legit Cup contender when they vanquished top seeds Boston and Detroit.
But all that was the regular season. And several Caps teams before this one have authored a similar, supremely impressive campaign. Only to flame out come April. All the hypothesizing and analysis all season long seems of little consequence today.
So having poured heart and soul, countless hours of blogging effort and dreaming of glory, I sit here emotionally wrecked. I'm in lockdown mode.
When I reflect on my two decade experiences of Caps fandom, the phrase which first comes to mind is "jilted lover." Time and again though, I leap at the promise of change, of redemption, though history suggests nothing but another stomp on the heart.
When Ryan Callahan scored the only goal of Saturday's affair, I cried obscenities to the heavens, doubtless heard by neighboring apartments. Like the ancient Greeks who felt utterly at the mercy of the whims of their deities, I wondered aloud why must I, and my team, be cursed so. After two periods and scuttled power play opportunities, which were finally awarded to the home team, the result was not in doubt.
It is the lot of the die-hard sports fan: to combat the pain of defeat, of loss of hope and a season, in the face of something over which we in the stands have absolutely no control, we generally either withdraw into a detached state, or console ourselves with memories of past triumphs for our favored franchise.
Only the first option, sadly, is available to the Washington Capitals fan. Call me fickle, but appreciate the motivation to preserve the self. Give me sympathy.
I was on a week-long vacation, in a locale with limited connectivity, from which I returned late Friday night. (It frustrated me greatly to have missed a playoff game entirely, but schedules dictated this past week to be the only vacation opportunity for some time.) I had learned of Wednesday's defeat, and received an outline of the manner in which it transpired. Undaunted, I believed it an aberration. A small stumble on the golden path.
Prior to boarding a flight home, I managed to find an English language newspaper with mention of hockey, the global edition of the USA Today, and faced squarely this statistic: No. 2 seeds are 14-14 against No. 7 seeds in matchups since the NHL went to a conference-based playoff setup in 1993-94. Now, add to that the fact that, in franchise history, the Caps are 0-4 in Game Threes when trailing in the series two games to none.
It is interesting that those fans who are reviving the clarion call of "DSB" are most often those who have recently been initiated into the brotherhood and sisterhood of Caps Nation. Those with long memories have heavy hearts, and may be disengaging, as I am. Ironic that the ones who have invested the most over the years are those who exhibit the stereotypical traits of the fairweather, causal, "bandwagon" fan. We have consumed a whole orchard's worth of fruit from the tree of knowledge.
The hockey reasons for the Caps current plight might seem simple. Said Nick Backstrom post-game on Saturday:
"We have to try something new. Maybe we have to go even more to the net. I mean more traffic, get rebounds and those kinds of things."
And in perhaps one of the most dismissive, damning of statements ever spoken by an opponent during the course of a series, Henrik Lundqvist remarked:
"There's no secrets in the playoffs. Everybody knows how you have to score. You have to pay a price for it."
So instead of consoling myself with memories of past success, I search for answers, and find nothing but torment in recalling the myriad ways in which this franchise managed defeat. As much as we have celebrated the dogged determination of guys like Brooks Laich, Backstrom, and, of course, Alex Ovechkin, I'm left wondering, among other possible paths to this season's hockey truth, is this 2008-09 team not, at least offensively, that unlike the 2002-03 Caps team, which boasted fantastic skill on its roster, but lost four straight in the first round to the Tampa Bay Lightning?
Tonight, I will watch, for sure, but with a resigned disposition. I know nothing anymore.
Still, in this cesspool of melancholy, I find a tiny but resistant strain of defiance, living, and wearing the colors, up here in the heart of the enemy, and of a quiet, desperate hope.