Thursday, January 1, 2009

Calder for Bourque?

After the Capitals’ stirring road victory over the Sabres on Tuesday, we at the DC Optimist feel it reasonable to ask: should Chris Bourque garner consideration for the Calder trophy, given to the NHL’s most outstanding rookie, for his game-changing first period goal in Buffalo?

It was a crucially important game for the Capitals, if all this talk of demon-exorcising from Bruce II is to be believed. It was a game in a building in which the Capitals traditionally met an ugly demise, against a team that, for whatever reason, seemed to have the Caps’ number over the years (Eastern Conference finals notwithstanding). To paraphrase the reigning Jack Adams winner (en route to a repeat), these are the games the Caps have to start winning, the venues the team has to start conquering, if they are to be champions.

This could be the confidence-building win that, ultimately, pushes the Caps towards that over-the-top territory they are so desperately seeking and, given the utterly ridiculous AHL-resembling of their roster due to injury after injury after baffling injury, they ultimately deserve.

All that being said, how could the league not take notice of Bourque’s first career goal, that adeptly buried long rebound that gave the Capitals a 2-0 advantage, leading directly to Craig Laughlin’s traditional proclamation that another Caps’ goal would mean “lights out” for the opposition. Ultimately, this game-breaking goal led to just that.

Not to alarm Caps fans, but there is this slight possibility that Bourque may be snubbed despite his objectively pure qualifications for the award. Therefore, we pre-emptively cite the example of equally
snubbed would-be MLB All-Star-Game-MVP Dmitri Young

In the 2007 version of the game that can still end in a tie (is a Donovan McNabb joke at this point considered dated? Can we still make that tie-related joke?), Young stoked a 9th inning rally with a two-out infield single. The eventual triumph of the National League would not have been possible without it, yet Young was denied most valuable player considerations afterwards.

Similarly, this magnificent rebound goal by Bourque made possible this victory in Buffalo so badly needed for the Caps’ Cup-seeking psyche. While Nicklas Backstrom may nominally hold the game winning goal for this contest (courtesy of that meaningless post-empty-netter tally by Buffalo’s Clark MacArthur with 11 seconds left), it was Bourque the Younger’s tally that ultimately, truly won this game for the Caps.

Finally, since it’s the New Year (irrelevant, but who cares, let’s press on), we'll play a game of If The Playoffs Began Today. If the playoffs began today, the Capitals would play…the Penguins in the first round. You remember the Penguins, right? That team of baby darlings that so charmed us last spring with their little playoff run, and who were such a lazy popular pick amongst hockey experts to repeat as Eastern Conference Champions, and who are apparently completely unable to deal with the nasty little injury bug as well as the Caps have. Yes, those Penguins.

Talk about exorcising demons. A clean first-round sweep of the Pens would do more to bolster the post-season confidence of the Caps and their fans than any number of 3-1 series leads held on to in 1998 could ever do. All this assumes the Penguins make the playoffs, of course, and don’t fall into the pit of expectation-choking-away that befell the Dallas Cowboys in the past month.

Regardless, give Chris Bourque his due for the goal that may well push the Caps to the next level. A text-based postgame conversation between myself and DCO’s Bobitmist Prime on Tuesday acknowledged that Chris faces stiff Calder competition from Karl Alzner and Simeon Varlamov, but we can, and should, all hope that his heroics will ultimately be recognized league-wide.

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