Sittin' at the end of the bar is hard work. Especially when you're trying to remember what was the 12 months of 2013 for the Washington Capitals. The cousins - Fearless and Cheerless - and I spent the first round looking back at the regular season that was only 48 games (thanks, NHL). Now that Cheerless has returned with a round of... peach blow fizzes?
Cheerless: It's festive.
Fearless: It's festering.
Peerless: Just order a couple pitchers of beer, will you? Where were we? Ah, yes... May. And that means...
Cheerless: Better make it three pitchers.
Peerless: ...playoffs. And it would be a familiar foe that the Caps would face in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. For the fourth time in their last seven playoff series, starting with the 2009 Eastern quarters, the Caps would face the New York Rangers in a seven-game series.
It followed a script with which Caps fans are all too familiar. Washington won Games 1 and 2, grinding out a 3-1 win in Game 1 after spotting the Rangers the first goal. The players were familiar in their roles - Alex Ovechkin getting a power play goal, Marcus Johansson chipping in some offense with a goal of his own, and Jason Chimera - a player with a knack for making life difficult for Ranger goalie Henrik Lundqvist - getting the insurance goal. In Game 2 it was Braden Holtby carrying the load, stopping all 22 shots he faced, until Mike Green scored a power play goal in overtime to give the Caps a 1-0 win and a 2-0 lead in games.
All the wins did, though, was allow the Caps to hold serve. As Caps fans almost certainly know, six times in team history the Caps took a 2-0 lead in a seven-game series before this one, and they lost four of those series.
Sure enough, the Rangers clawed back into the series, winning both games at Madison Square Garden by identical 4-3 scores. What made it tougher to swallow was that in each game the Caps and Rangers were tied, 2-2, entering the third period. Win the period, win the game, and even if they did it just once, probably win the series. They didn't, and the series headed back to Washington to start what was now a best-of-three series.
As has been their wont over the years, the 2013 edition of the Caps were once more a post-season tease. Spotting the Rangers the opening goal in the first minute of the first period, the Caps dug in, tied it with a goal by Joel Ward in the second period, then won it in overtime when, after putting relentless pressure on the Ranger net, Mike Ribiero stuffed a rebound of a Karl Alzner shot/Troy Brouwer rebound attempt past Lundqvist.
One more win... just one more win, and two games in which to do it. Little did anyone know, let alone conceive, that not only would the Caps not win again, but that they would not score again in the series. Games 6 and 7 were back-to-back, home-and-home, Sunday/Monday games between the clubs. The first of them was cruel irony for the Capitals. Having already won a game on home ice in this series by a 1-0 score, it was the Rangers' chance to exact revenge. What made it even less appetizing was the combination of players that played the critical roles in the goal scoring. Midway through the second period, the Caps were having a devil of a time trying to clear the Ranger zone. John Moore kept a clearing attempt in at the left point and fed Derick Brassard at the top of the zone. Brassard shifted a bit to his left and let fly with a shot with Rick Nash setting a screen in front. Caps' defenseman Steve Oleksy could not manhandle Nash out of Braden Holtby's sight line, but it didn't matter as the puck hit Oleksy and deflected past Holtby's glove for what would be the game's only goal. In case it escaped Caps fans' attention, Moore, Brassard, and Nash all toiled at one time for perennial league doormats, the Columbus Blue Jackets. That combination could only piece together the only goal in a playoff game against the Caps.
That left it up to Game 7.
Cheerless: Really, do we have to go through this again?
Feerless: Have another beer, it helps.
Cheerless: They don't make enough beer.
Fearless: A proposition you've tested more than once.
Peerless: OK, OK. We won't re-live that. Caps fans know the script by now. Another early exit, another Game 7 loss, another blowout in a deciding game.
Cheerless: Well, the refereeing wasn't too good, neither.
Peerless: You mean the fact that the Caps had a total of six power plays in the last four games of the series, three of which they lost, while the Rangers had 15 power plays?
Cheerless: Yeah, but who's countin'?
Fearless: Apparently, you are.
Peerless: Spilt milk, guys.
Fearless: Well, there were the awards.
Cheerless: You mean most disappointing franchise in the last half dozen years?
Fearless: At least San Jose made it to the conference finals twice in that time.
Cheerless: The Caps have done it twice... ever.
Peerless: We done here? On to June. While other teams were battling for a Stanley Cup, or at least have memories of battling to get to the finals, Caps fans were left wondering if the big finish to his season would be enough for Alex Ovechkin to win his third Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player and his third Lindsay Award as the league's most outstanding player to go along with his third Richard Trophy as the league's top goal scorer.
For Ovechkin, it was a tale of two seasons. The first of them was, depending on your perspective, either a continuation of his long slow descent into mediocrity, or a process of getting used to a new coach (the fourth of his career and third in the space of less than 14 months) and a new position. That "season" lasted 27 games, over which Ovechkin was a non-descript (for him) 10-12-22, minus-7, an 82-game pace of 30-36-66, minus-21.
Ovechkin's second "season" was nothing short of spectacular. In his last 21 games he was 22-12-34, plus-9 (an 86-47-133, plus-35 82-game pace). The Caps were 16-3-2 in those 21 games and rode that wave to the top of the Southeast Division after spending time in the league's cellar as late as February 22nd (after Game 16) and in last place in the East as late as March 1st (after Game 19). He finished on top of the goal-scoring race for the third time in his career, his 32 goals marking his eighth time in eight seasons topping the 30-goal mark, only the ninth player in the modern era (post 1967 expansion) to accomplish the feat.
Cheerless: Tell us what happened next!
Peerless: That big finish was enough for Ovechkin to claim the Hart Trophy by just 42 points over Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby (Crosby won the Lindsay Award), but it was received by certain quarters of the hockey media less than enthusiastically.
Fearless: Post hoc ergo propter hoc
Peerless: I think what Fearless is trying to say in his fractured Latin sort of way is that since the Caps went out early in the playoffs, maybe folks after the fact thought he was undeserving of the Hart.
Cheerless: Even I know the Hart is based on regular season play.
Peerless: Yeah, and there was also the little matter of his sustaining a broken foot in Game 6 of the series against the Rangers.
Fearless: At least we had hockey.
Cheerless: Yeah, just not enough of it at either end.
Peerless: Right you are, fellows. It was a strange season indeed, but that was the end of it. It was time for getting ready for another season.
Cheerless: I think it's time for another round.
- Tuesday Caps Clips: Vetoed
- Capitals vs. Senators Recap: One Team, One Goal... and That's Not Enough
- Report: Nationals Park to Host 2015 Winter Classic
- Sittin' at the End of the (Capitals) Bar: Auld Lang Syne
- The Noon Number: Jolly Old Saint Nicklas
- Capitals Ups and Downs: Week 13
- Clyde's Shots: Fights of 2013