Friday, April 11, 2008

Keys to the Series vs. Philly

Like many Caps fans (and possibly members of the Penguins’ organization), I had initially hoped the team would draw the Senators in the first round. To again quote the brilliant sage in the men’s room following the playoff-clinching victory over the Panthers, “We dominated them (Ottawa) when we sucked.” It looked like a nice cakewalk through the first round, the kind of cakewalk the Penguins are apparently on their way to enjoying, if their seemingly effortless 4-0 victory in Game 1 is any indication.

Upon further review, however, I welcome the series against Philadelphia. Perhaps you have been like me in recent years, becoming complacent in your disdain for all things Philly. Maybe the feverish dislike for the Flyers waned along with the relevance of the Philadelphia franchise, particularly last season, when a sad, last-place Flyers team was swept in the season series by the Capitals. We’ve also been further distracted by this nearly three-year wave of newfound darling-ism cascading over Pittsburgh and Sts. Crosby and Malkin, refocusing our ire on a team that, like the Flyers, slipped to the brink of being an afterthought.

This series against the Flyers offers a chance to bring back the warm feeling in one’s heart that comes from despising Philadelphia. Judging by the Pennsylvanian-disparaging Caps fan I encountered on the Metro last night, that feeling is making a comeback. His harsh words regarding those who would come here and root for wretches such as the Penguins and Flyers perhaps heralded a return of those old days at the Cap Center, where Philly and Pitt fans showed up but were not tolerated, were not allowed to out-cheer the home crowd. So bring on the Flyers, and let’s take a look at some key match-ups in this series.

1. Danny Briere’s stick blade vs. Capitals’ groins – How many cowardly spears Briere is able to dole out could well affect the outcome of this series. Past spearing victims Alex Ovechkin and Milan Jurcina can vouch for the potential game/series-ending injury that can result from such an action, particularly when Lil’ Danny works his trade while hiding behind a large teammate. Unrelated note to Sports Illustrated: why must you insult Paul McCartney? The Ovechkin comparison was kind of funny, but that was just flat out unnecessary.

2. Mike Wise vs. Thomas Boswell – Who can write the more poetically waxing column? Boswell fired the first shot, invoking the image of a fairy tale within the first ten words of his post-division-title piece. Wise shot back three days later with his touching tale of a rejuvenated Sergei Fedorov hoping to re-live past glory with the Capitals and guiding the Caps’ talented youngsters with his sage-like 38-year-old wisdom. Wise even called up on the memory of Vladimir Konstantinov and the way Fedorov and the Red Wings were inspired by their severely injured teammate to take down the Caps in four games in the 1998 Finals. He closed with the “new lease on life” angle to sum up Sergei’s current condition. These two could battle through the first round, and possibly beyond, for saccharine supremacy. We look forward to it.

3. Caps impending first-round victory vs. Specter of Pittsburgh in Round 2 – Thanks to the Penguins inept tanking (intentionally or not) in the season finale against the Flyers, not only do we have Philly coming to town for Round 1, we very well could see Pittsburgh in Round 2. Will haunting memories of things like 3-1 leads vanished and 4-OT-games-with-muffed-penalty-shot lost creep into the heads of Caps players as the first round wears on? Of course not. Nothing would be sweeter than knocking off the Flyers and Pens in succession. Let’s do that.

4. Caps fans vs. Invading Flyers fans – During the last couple of years, Philly fans have either been fewer in number or just not as loud at games in Washington, at least in my experience. There just hasn’t been the noticeable split in crowd loyalty that there used to be, or the fairly large number of inevitable confrontations between a Caps fan and some tool from Camden. This could all change, of course, with the Flyers having recovered from their brief down-turn. We’ll see if Verizon Center is invaded by those frontrunning-fans-who-never-get-called-out-as-frontrunning fans. If so, silencing them will be an important aspect of this series.

Well, the day is finally here: the beginning of the fruitioning of the now-officially over re-build. It was, at last, done properly (just look at that vaunted core of home-grown youngsters), and this promises to be a team not designed for just a one-year playoff run followed by salary cap hell disaster (hello, Pittsburgh). So you want a prediction? Fine. Here goes: the Flyers may well goon/spear their way to a victory or two, but the Caps will ultimately prove superior to the glorified “physical” play of Philadelphia. Washington in no more than six.

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