Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Of Demons and Darlings

It’s been almost month since the Caps were so perfectly poised to bury one of those exhaustively referenced playoff demons. That particular hell-spawn was the memory of 2-0 and 3-1 series leads lost (the 2-0 specifically being the winning of two opening road games), typically while being the underdog. The beating of the underdog Rangers, who had taken those two very series lead against the higher-seeded, mostly favored Caps, went a long way to washing the vile tastes of 1995, 1996, and 2003 from our mouths (amongst others).

In a season seemingly dead-set on giving the franchise a fresh start in its post-season history, it was perhaps only appropriate that the one-time consensus Eastern Conference Champion New Jersey Devils would so gloriously choke away a lead with just over a minute left in Game 7 to give the Caps a second round date with the Pittsburgh Penguins. The “coincidence” of this event happening just moments after sageful Sergei Fedorov had buried the Rangers in the Caps own Game 7 should not be ignored.

So yes, the Capitals can expunge another painful part of their past tonight by improving the franchise’s playoff record against the Pens to 2-6. Be ready to hear that record screamed incessantly by insecure Iron City drunkards should their vaunted squad be defeated. Nothing like ancient history to salve the wounds of the present.

A win tonight makes us forget silly things like OT penalty shot pucks skipping playfully around Joe Juneau’s stick and harmlessly into the waiting pads of Ken Wregget, buzz-killing 7-0 Game 1 defeats on home ice, wackily deflected OT goals, Petr Nedved, and, yes, seemingly commanding series leads lost.

There is even more at stake, however. The Caps can do the rest of the league and hockey fans outside of the Pittsburgh/West Virginia area a huge favor tonight in vanquishing those darling Penguins, that team never lacking for a pep talk from whatever hockey pundit feels a warmth in his bosom for Sidney Crosby on any given day.

It’s a chance for the Caps to rescue us all, at least for five months, from a world where any mildly irritating, NHL-decreed-destiny-defying setback for the Pens is characterized as “adversity” (also known as “losing a game” or “incurring a penalty” for any other team), which of course is eventually “overcome”, where any Pens’ minor success is lauded as “resiliency”, where another manifestation of Sid’s petulant, entitled-brat schtick in complaining about hat-trick hats is characterized as the Pens captain being ”ever the competitor”, where instances of trash-throwing on DC ice are met with disdain and instances of the same in Pittsburgh are ignored, where the true resiliency of a Caps' rookie goaltender is questioned even as his counterpart in black and gold allows one laughable goal after another, and where increasingly tired arguments (some admittedly presented here) of which fanbase/organization has more “class”, which team posesses more loyal, less-bandwagony fans, or which team boasts more whiners, fall almost unanimously in favor of the Penguins. It's the Caps on the short end of these arguments now, but a Pittsburgh victory and it will soon be the Bruins/Hurricanes or Ducks/Red Wings/Blackhawks/any team daring to stand in the way of Gary Bettman reverently handing Sid a trophy.

This is the monster the Caps can slay tonight, along with their oft-mentioned demons, and oft-mentioned (usually snarkily) ancient history with the Penguins, a history with which exactly zero current Capitals were involved in any way (regular resident of the healthy scratch list Michael Nylander doesn’t count). It's a chance for a fresh start for us all.

Beat the Penguins, save the (hockey) world.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Hope and Sanity From...

The Penguins seem to officially be darlings again, almost unanimously picked to advance past the speed-bump Capitals. Remember when the Pens were going to miss the playoffs, and we were all ready to be spared from having to hear Sidney Crosby and his enabler hockey pundits talk about “overcoming adversity” or “facing adversity”, perhaps the most over-used phrases (with “it is what it is” coming in a close second) in all of sport? Those were nice days, days in which we might have dreamed of the Pens merely being relegated to talk of moves to Kansas City, days in which they might have again been abandoned by their supposed non-fairweather fans, who are of course superior to the all-bandwagon crowd filling Verizon Center.

However, in all of the renewed christening of the golden boy and his golden team, there may be a voice of sanity in the unlikely mulleted form of Barry Melrose. We all remember Barry, right? He made a trip to Washington mere days before his 16-game tenure behind the Tampa Bay Lightning bench ended. Well, over at, amidst a summary of overwhelming predictions of a second-round Penguins’ triumph vs. the Capitals, Barry and Pierre LeBrun stand alone as the only prognosticators willing to vouch for at least the possibility of a Washington victory.

What’s the point, you might rightfully ask? Well, a look back at predictions for Round 1 of the playoffs will reveal Melrose as the only one out of 18 expert predictors (including a monkey, who, incidentally, likes the Caps’ chances) who forecast Anaheim to knock off presumed Cup finalist San Jose. So he predicted, so it came to pass (and note the Capitals vs. Capitals phenomenon amidst the Yahoo! experts).

Maybe this guy is on to something. Maybe he knows something the rest of the expert hockey-predicting world doesn’t. Maybe he realizes that just because a #2 seed took a game or two longer than expected to knock off a #7 seed which possessed one of the East’s best defenses (if one of the worst offenses) and a goalie with series-stealing capability (as we were many, many, many times told), it doesn’t necessarily mean they are doomed by the prospect of facing Brooks Orpik and M-A F.

So, thank you, Barry (and, to a lesser degree, Pierre, since you predicted it would take the full seven games for the Caps to advance and face the Hurricanes in a paradox-causing all-SE-Division Conference Finals), for not falling blindly into another premature coronation of the Penguins. Your prediction is a refreshing WAS in an otherwise bleak world of PIT.