Every year come playoff time, Capitals fans open up their toolbox, pull out a hammer, and start hitting themselves in the head, hoping – begging, even – that this time it won’t hurt. But the laws of physics haven’t changed since the Capitals franchise was founded in 1974, and a hammer still leaves a lump that takes time to heal.
Entering Game 7 on Monday night Caps fans found themselves in a precarious emotional position once again. Coming off a blazing hot second half of the regular season that saw the team rocket from last place in the standings to the 3rd seed in the playoffs, expectations for the postseason were sky high. The conventional wisdom among Caps faithful was that the team had finally gelled around Adam Oates’ system and was the most balanced it had been in years. No longer could they be exploited as too one dimensional—either offensively or defensively—to win a championship.
And Alex Ovechkin was back baby, I mean 23 goals in the final 23 games, are you kidding me?!! Who was going to stop this guy in the playoffs? And with a healthy Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom, along with a beefed up second line led by Mike Ribeiro and Troy Brouwer this team could score with anyone right? Plus this team had playoff experience up and down the roster, and had been in game 7’s before, surely that counts for something, maybe a little bit?? Even Braden Holtby had been there before, facing the Rangers only a year earlier in a series that went the distance.
But as Caps fans watched the puck drop on Monday night, only a few short days after witnessing a 2-0 series lead disappear, and the 7th time the Ovechkin led Caps had played a winner take all game, with very mixed results to say the least, cracks in the emotional armor were forming. Fans were experiencing an internal faceoff between hope and reality, and hope seemed to have no home-ice advantage. Sure they might win, maybe they should win, but we’ve been down this road before haven’t we? Should I give myself one more whack to the head? Will it not hurt this time?
And in the 60 minutes after the puck hit the ice, as the ghosts of playoffs past and present soared through the Verizon Center, taunting every Capitals fan, young or old, who dared to believe, hope was sent to the penalty box for good this season.
But perhaps the Capitals 5-0 loss came with a silver lining. Unlike a one-goal defeat or a loss in overtime which may sting for days, a loss like this one may have provided Caps fans with an opportunity to undergo an accelerated emotional healing process. Consider the five stages of grief:
At the 13:19 mark of the first period, on an odd man rush following a quality scoring chance by the Caps, fourth liner Arron Asham put the Rangers up 1-0 on a slapshot past Braden Holtby . . . It’s just one-goal, somebody has to score first, right? . . . we’ve won twice in the series after giving up the first goal so we’ll come back in this one . . . we’ve won every home game in the series and that streak won’t end . . . the Rangers have never won a game 7 on the road . . . why should it matter that the Caps haven’t skated with a lead since game 1 of the series?
At the 3:24 mark of the second period unheralded player Taylor Pyatt put home a rebound to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead . . . This is bulls*%$! . . . I’ve never even heard of Pyatt before! . . . why can’t we clear their players from the net! . . . and where is our freaking offense and why isn’t Ovechkin doing anything! . . . why aren’t we getting any powerplays?! . . . and why did I spend $100 for a ticket to this game where I have to pay 10 bucks for a beer and watch this crap!
Only two minutes later a shot by Michael Del Zotto deflected off a defender and past Holtby to put the Rangers up 3-0 . . . I realize this is a lot to ask for but if you please just let the Caps come back in this game I will concede that Crosby is the best player in the league and that he should win the MVP this year. . . I’m sorry for saying Ovechkin should be traded for a lump of coal earlier in the season when things weren’t going well . . . and if you just let us win this game I will stop screaming “Shoot!” at the top of my lungs when Mike Ribeiro leisurely takes the puck for a stroll around the net.
Only 13 seconds into the 3rd period, Ryan Callahan bangs home a backhander past Holtby to make the score 4-0 . . . Why do I put myself through this agony every season? . . . Instead of spending hundreds of hours watching a team that never wins anything in the playoffs, I could be spending more time with my wife and kids . . . I need to exercise more.
At 6:39 of the third period, Mats Zuccarello made Holtby look foolish on a breakaway to finish the scoring at 5-0 . . . The Rangers played well and have an amazing goalie . . . the Rangers probably made adjustments better than we did in the series . . . the Caps had a pretty good season overall . . . look how far they came to win a division title . . . Ovechkin seems to be back on track and he won another Maurice Richard trophy . . . part of the Caps experience is accepting the playoff flameouts and bonding with other fans over the misery . . . and hey, the Skins and Nats are playing pretty well right now too so we’ve got something to tide us over until the start of next season.
Although it will probably take more time for most of us to fully accept the abrupt ending to the season, in the meantime let’s put away out hammers, put a bag of ice on our heads, and root for anyone but the Penguins or Rangers to win the Stanley Cup. Being a Caps fan can be tough but we’ll be back next season, irrational expectations and all.