Exactly two weeks ago, Cap City was despondent, disheartened (well, at least my borough of it). That impressive goalie that all the ladies adore, and that earned himself a royal nickname, was "stealing the series" for the New York Rangers, putting our heroes in a 3-1 series hole.
The Caps were the "ubertalented" squad chock full of young guns, reminiscent of the 1993 Nordiques de Québec, and the Rangers recalled a Patrick Roy-led Habs team "outshot and outchanced, but not outscored, during their six-game victory" over their provincial rivals.
Since then, perhaps the greatest alchemy in the history of D.C. hockey has occurred: that lethal offensive force has been joined with a goaltender slowly earning himself at least footnote mention alongside the legendary exploits of a 20 year old Roy, or a 24 year old Ken Dryden. It was becoming a year of magical thinking.
And then last night in Steel Town, on the finest and most spotlessly polished silver platter, the Capitals found themselves in a position to put a strangehold on this second-round series versus the Penguins. You don't need me to tell you that the hockey gods have long favored the Pittsburgers when the two clubs collide in the post-season. But yesterday it seemed as if the divine offered a heavenly bounty of gifts that might, if seized upon, go a long away toward making right on some painful history.
Decisively, crushingly. And in the Igloo.
Throughout the game, I was awe-struck (and I'm sure most of you were as well) first by the divine hand which twisted M-A Fleury's stick out of his grasp and directed the puck to a salivating Alex Ovechkin, and then, time and again, by the nerve-fraying avalanche of glorious chances that the Pens created, just a fraction of which converted would have led to a humiliating final score for the road team, all turned away, or botched. Dives by Simeon Varlamov backwards and forwards. Whiffs and shanks in front of a yawning net. Relentless forechecking pressure.
Though all signs pointed to complete implosion, and I rocked back and forth nervously on my couch, I deigned to tilt my head skyward and ask the moon, "Who will be our Petr Nedved tonight?" It seemed as if no matter what unfolded on that ice sheet, the Caps could not lose. And someone (Brooks Laich?) was going to bat 'er home at around 2:30 am this morning.
Yet, this seemingly magical opportunity was not seized upon. Even from the moment of Ovechkin's marker, the Caps showed themselves unable, or unwilling, to push back the onslaught of those waddling cartoon birds with the requisite effort. Quoth Boudreau: "When you get a goaltending effort like that, you have to win because they don't come around every day." Instead, the theme of the contest became Malkin Comes Alive! And the game, with a small detour, took its rightful course.
Now, it should be noted that, despite the aforementioned brilliance of young St. Patrick, a 2-1 OT win in Game Seven was still required for the Canadiens to vanquish the Hartford Whalers in the Adams Division finals. Including a heartbreaking 2-1 OT loss to the Whale in Game 4, on Insurance City ice. Nothing in the Stanley Cup playoffs comes easy.
But the Caps have it completely within their earthly power to put the hammer down tomorrow and return to D.C. for a series-ending thriller. The team was a collective doormat last night and the home squad released its most ferocious barrage of artillery. And it still required overtime to damage the Red Machine.
The mood in the room should be of confidence and focused anger. A defiant tilt of the head to say, "That's all you got?"
Win one tomorrow for Varlamov. Bring it home for your fans to enjoy victory against arch-rivals. Deal to the Penguins the same fate suffered by another flightless bird from centuries ago. The dodo.