The completed five-year plan for the franchise, after all is said and done tonight in this second-round series, might yield a stunning reversal of fortune to halt a nearly two decade long torment at the flippers of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
On Monday night, all seemed lost yet again, and then was suddenly regained. Die-hard fans of Les Capitals sat or stood, incredulous at the looming spectacle of another tragedy. The same script, with different, younger actors, was unfolding for a seventh time in eight seasons.
The series has, as all manner of outlets have proclaimed, truly lived up to the hype. And I almost wish that I didn't have a horse in this race, and then I could watch the unmatched hockey drama unfold as a spectator, unencumbered by the weight of playoff history between the two combatants. Instead, I could hardly endure the tension of Monday's contest, and a dread which one might experience listening to Mother Nature's rumble the moment before an avalanche descends. Fans, like players, absorbed last night's contest mentally battered and bruised, anxious, sick, maybe even with a pounding headache. (And well before the morning's hangover, no less.) I shudder to think of how Mike Green's mom is handling this series.
Third period. Another tie game. And another Cap headed to the penalty box. The barbarians all clad in one-size-fits-all (and thank goodness for that, eh?) giveaway white tees roaring, frothing. I winced, lifted a rocks glass, felt the heat of whiskey slip down my throat. Recomposed myself. Stood. Paced. Hoped.
Steinz described the feeling as:
[H]alf bad-quesadilla queasy, half first-day-of-Little-League excited, covered with strange science-teacher sweat spots and unusual gym-class odors, pulse racing like Paula Abdul after a staged Idol performance, nibbling nails worse than a half-starved LeBron James.
During the intermission preceding overtime, I spoke to a couple of close friends, monitored email traffic on Caps fan groups of which I've been a member since the days when email was exciting and new, gathered the pulse of "old-guard" Caps Nation. Optimism was being bludgeoned by the one true collective kryptonite to render asunder the best-made plans of franchise history to date. Fatalism's seeds sprouted hideous black and gold vines, obscuring the light. Summed up in my own despondent assessment: "This is all just delaying the inevitable, right?"
Through nearly two decades, not one shred of evidence, not one footnote in franchise history (unsung Caps defenseman John Slaney excepted) could be offered in rebuttal of a seemingly unassailable judgment: the Pittsburgh Penguins own the Washington Capitals in the post-season. And they were about to foreclose on our dream of redemption. It didn't seem to matter that we have the most electrifying player and determined soul in all of pro hockey, or that a sterling supporting cast has been painstakingly assembled over the course of that five-year plan. No one, it seemed, could stop the rain.
The us against the world view is not just an expedient, utilitarian fabrication of current Caps management and coaching used to psychological advantage. For many fans, especially those that still roam, or have recently returned to, le Centre Verizón, wearing the original stars-and-stripes jerseys of players like Dino Ciccarrelli, Kelly Miller, Mike Ridley, Michal Pivonka, Rod Langway, Dale Hunter, Pete Peeters, and Bobby Gould, it runs deep. It is something that resides in all of us who have followed the red, white, and blue since at least 1992. One team haunts us, one team is always favored, and one team is (almost) always the victor. Knee-jerk reactions to individual defeats often involve conspiracy theories and inexplicably vindictive referees. We search for some explanation to this excruciating and unrelenting excepting trend to the law of averages.
As such, a dark cloud hung over the afternoon and into the evening on Monday, despite a clear sky, brisk breeze, and lovely, humidity-free climes here in Gotham and likely in the District as well. We read the pre-game quotes and wondered why was it that another Caps team, this team, could allow a commanding series lead to slip away to the same opponent again, perhaps even admitting to "show up" only at the proverbial 11th hour. Love for our heroes began to turn to hate, the opposite side of the same coin.
But like the team, we prevailed. We endured this game and came out alive. We live to enjoy our fanaticism for another day.
Even should tonight ultimately be lost, perish the thought, we can still enjoy the singular experience of finding shelter from the storm for a night, and re-learning to believe again, whatever the record books might read. Caps Nation old and new is revitalized, and red-rock solid.
But should Game 7 victory again be attained in this post-season, those heavy black and gold clouds of pollution which have floated overhead and constricted Caps land will be dispelled for a good long while.
So tonight, dear friends, we'll watch the final, wholly-unpredictable scene of this Act and wonder of our boys in red -- looking down the bench and at the five poised for the opening face-off -- who will stop the rain.