Moments to Remember

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 23: Members of the Washington Capitals salute their fans as they defeated the New York Rangers 3-1 in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Verizon Center on April 23, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Len Redkoles/Getty Images)

And so the season ends. The Cup has been awarded, the champagne (and other assorted beverages) drained, the shiny trophies handed out. And while the Cup champs will take this summer to celebrate their victory, the other 29 teams – and their fans – are left to sort through the rubble of a season gone by to try and salvage something good.

Luckily for Caps fans, there were actually quite a few such moments in this past season, whether it was an individual performance that stood out or a total team effort leading the way to victory. Sure, these moments may not be quite as good as a championship (…we think) but there's still plenty of which to be proud and plenty of happy times to remember.

So as we turn the corner toward the 2011-12 season, we take one final look in the rearview mirror at the season that was and present the ten best games of the season – along with where they fall on a highly technical scale of 1-5 in two areas: "awesomeness" and "importance".

Agree? Disagree? Make your case in the comments.

10. 2/16 @ Anaheim, 7-6 W - The Caps may have adopted a more defensive style this season, but it was nowhere to be found on this night as the Ducks threw caution to the wind and engaged the Caps in a run-and-gun style of game that highlighted offense over goaltending and defense. The result? A back-and-forth game with numerous lead changes and comebacks, an Alexander Semin hat trick, a Mike Knuble breakaway tally and a highlight reel goal by none other than Alex Ovechkin.
Awesomeness: 3
Importance: 1

9. 3/1 vs NY Islanders, 2-1 OTW – The first half of this game saw the Caps and Islanders locked in a 0-0 grudge match; the second half, a seemingly insurmountable 1-0 lead for New York. By the end, only the final 2:43 of regulation and overtime would matter, as Jason Arnott – in his first game as a Cap – found Brooks Laich in front to tie the game up with less than a minute left, leaving the captain to turn overtime into "Ovietime":


Awesomeness: 4
Importance: 3

8. 10/9 vs New Jersey7-2 W – The Caps opened the home portion of the 2010-11 season in style, rebounding from their first loss of the season the night before with a dominant offensive performance…that featured more than a little snarl, as well. Any time you can combine seven goals (including those of the shorthanded, power play and penalty shot variety) with a Mike Green-Ilya Kovalchuk throwdown, you know you’re dealing with an instant classic. And if you wanted team toughness, witness the reaction to a bit of jackassery by since-exiled Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond on Marcus Johansson:


Awesomeness: 5
Importance: 2

7. 12/19 @ Ottawa, 3-2 W - By the middle of December, the Caps were mired in their longest losing streak in years, with frustration mounting (and intensified thanks to the harsh glare of HBO's cameras). After an almost-comeback in Boston the night before the Caps headed into Ottawa and once again found themselves down early - but this time they would complete the comeback in an early second period flurry, with Mathieu Perreault's two goals leading the way to their first victory in almost three weeks.
Awesomeness: 3
Importance: 4

6. 1/22 @ Toronto, 4-1 W - There aren't many bigger stages for hockey than the weekly Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts, so it's only natural that spotlight-loving Alex Ovechkin would take over the game. This time, however, he had to share that spotlight with a young goaltender who few outside of DC and Saskatchewan had heard of named Braden Holtby. The duo provided the necessary one-two punch to silence the Air Canada Centre, with Ovechkin's hat trick leading the offense while Holtby's dominant 35-for-36 save performance made sure everyone knew who he was by the end of the night.
Awesomeness: 4
Importance: 2

5. 10/27 @ Carolina, 3-0 W - Despite their solid record to start the season, the Caps were far from being a dominant force in the East and were relying heavily on their rookie goaltender, Michal Neuvirth, to carry them on his shoulders until they found their groove. Neuvirth earned Rookie of the Month honors for the month of October, but the cherry on the sundae was his first career NHL shutout in which he stopped all 29 Carolina shots...including this one:

 


Awesomeness:
 3
Importance: 3

4. 11/26 vs Tampa Bay, 6-0 W - It was about as complete a game as you could want from the Caps. They found explosive offense and combined it with stifling defense (limiting Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis to just three shots on goal combined). They scored on the power play and negated Tampa's big guns with the extra man. Boudreau outcoached Boucher and Marcus Johansson picked up his first career multi-point game while Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom each got their eleventy-billionth (give or take a few billion). And leading the way was Alexander Semin, who scored a natural hat trick in the second period - his second in as many games against the Lightning.
Awesomeness: 4
Importance: 3

3. 1/1 @ Pittsburgh, 3-1 W - There have been few more hyped rivalries in recent years than Capitals vs. Penguins (often to the dismay of fans everywhere). Sometimes it lives up to it, sometimes it doesn't...but sometimes it surpasses it beyond anything we could imagine, and that was the case with this year's Winter Classic. A little rain, a little delay and a little abnormally warm weather couldn't dampen the spirits of the 65,000+ who packed Heinz Field to watch the Caps and Pens battle it out in the night air. Two goals from Eric Fehr would seal the victory and a crucial two points, but it was the memories of the event itself, the atmosphere and the electricity - preserved for all time by HBO's 24/7 - that would make this one of the highlights of the season.
Awesomeness: 5
Importance: 3

2. 4/20 @ NY Rangers4-3 2OTW - When the Capitals, up 2-1 in their first round series against the Rangers, fell into a 3-0 hole in the second period of Game 4, it seemed as though they were headed for yet another Madison Square Garden beatdown. But then Semin scored early in the second to make it 3-1. And then Marcus Johansson cut the lead to one just a minute later. And then, less than ten minutes after his first career playoff goal, Johansson picked up his second career playoff goal to tie the game. It would remain that way through the end of regulation, through an entire overtime frame and right up until the moment when a bit of miscommunication between Henrik Lundqvist and Marian Gaborik opened the door for Jason Chimera to pot the game-winner and put the Caps up 3-1 heading back to DC.
Awesomeness: 5
Importance: 4

1. 4/23 vs NYR, 3-1 W - After blowing a 3-1 series lead just a year ago, there was a fair amount of anxiety among Caps fans heading into that pivotal Game 5. Ghosts of failed postseasons past haunted the team and it was clear that the Caps needed to put the Rangers away in five or risk a repeat of 2010. And with workmanlike precision and laser focus, they did just that, getting on the board early and hanging on late to deny the Rangers any chance of climbing back in the series. When the final horn sounded New York had managed a last-minute goal but the series belonged to the Caps - and a few demons were exorcised, too.


Awesomeness: 5
Importance: 5

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