Finally, after four long days of analyzing, predicting, and waiting, it all begins tonight. Les Capitals et Les Habitants collide in the post-season for the first time in history. Fitting, in a season where the Caps became the first non-Original Six team to reach 120 points. A Presidents' Trophy, and an impressive note in the annals of NHL regular seasons. Enjoy and savor that success. Prepare for what comes next.
We see this spring's NHL playoff adverts depict near tear-jerking moments for many hockey fans -- Bobby Orr "flying" through the St. Louis crease, for example -- and others that sicken Caps fans -- Super Mario's and Crosby's unfettered joys in victory. But none involving our red, white, and blue heroes. Except in mockery.
And with good reason: the Caps, as a franchise, has authored a mediocre history for itself to this point. As fans, we strain, cling desperately, to a few rays of sunshine piercing through a heavy canopy of cloud cover. Like Russian hockey fans might snicker at our country's obsession with a single Olympic victory over their national team in 1980, much of the NHL fan world could scoff at the gargantuan pedestal that Caps country has constructed as a foundation for the memory of Dale Hunter's playing days, much of which is owed to a single, first round series-winning goal over two decades ago. There's Joé Juneau too, of course. But not much after that.
They ask for the number of playoff series wins for the Caps since that surprising, unprecedented run to the Cup finals in 1998 (one). They point to the Stanley Cup and ask, rhetorically, where is reference to your team? Even the Caps' "10 Greatest Games" collection is replete with recent, individual, regular-season efforts.
This is where it begins, and all of that ends. The Young Guns. Brooksy. Brads. Grandpa Slippers. Our Real American Hero. Mr. Nasty. Theodore, a phoenix rising. These 2009-10 Capitals enter tonight's post-season play with the opportunity to achieve immortality. To be the first Washington Capitals to hoist that Cup, and have their names etched on it for all time. To have their inspirational efforts gleefully discussed for decades to come. To realize the long unrealized dream of a fan base now spanning multiple generations.
The pantheon of Capitals heroes sorely needs reinforcement, playoff-style. I hear the crimson cavalry coming.
During these next two months, let all of the waiting, the suffering, the disappointment, the missed open nets, the giveaways at the blue line, the seemingly unfair penalty calls against, the cruel twists of fate, the tragic endings that have repeated themselves many springs over, be gloriously washed away by a torrent of red rain.
Let a parent and child, spouses, partners, friends, share the spontaneous celebration of a Capitals' playoff overtime goal, that singular moment emblazoned in their memories. Let Caps supporters who are strangers outside of the rink ecstatically embrace each other as the goal-scoring siren sounds, over and over and over again, at le Centre Verizón, along the way to victory. Let corks be popped and shots downed in red-rocking, raucous revelry. Let babies be conceived on the night that Alex Ovechkin lifts the Stanley Cup aloft.
Bring your loudest voice tonight. And your most clever opponent insults. Wear your colors any and every way you choose. Show a Habs fan who happens into the barn at 7th and F courtesy, but no comfort. Don't let up, or be discouraged, or doubt. Love this team with your whole heart. A team that brought the house down all season long.
Dear friends, the terrific Capital storm is coming. And with it, we hope, a downpour for the next two months, followed by a clear, blue summer sky.
Tonight, it's time to win one game. And do it sixteen times.