Last night was a very special night indeed. Simply put, the Caps' Saturday night game vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets was within driving distance for me - so I was at Nationwide Arena cheering for (our) boys in red, white, and blue.
When I lived in DC I probably took my proximity to Verizon Center for granted. As life has taken me away from Washington over the last few years, it has become increasingly difficult to see the Caps live (especially because "away" means proximity to Western Conference teams the Caps visit 1x/season at most -- which does not guarantee a weekend game that is doable). Sure, sports bars and NHL Center Ice exist. But, make no mistake about it, hockey is a game to be seen in-person. And it is always better to see the Caps play hockey in-person.
Even if they only show up for 8 minutes of the game :)
Before we get to the game itself, let me say this. It was truly awesome to see how many Caps fans were in Columbus. I am horrible at estimating numbers. And, no, it was not anywhere near the Detroit invasion of the 1998 final. But, there is no way in hell Columbus sells out that game without all the red rockers in attendance. I met some of the dedicated Caps Road Crew members at R Bar before the game - who drove from DC. But, rest assured, they were far from the only Caps fans at Nationwide Arena last night.
Between all of the Caps fans roaming the Arena District and the presence of some chain restaurants I enjoyed in DC, but not in my current town (Ted's Montana Grill, Gordon Biersch, BD's) - it was a very welcomed dose of home on the road. I guess I should be thankful that the format taking effect next season guarantees a team will visit every other arena one time per season (much better than the current 'maybe, maybe not' policy).
So, anyway, aside from conjuring up feelings of nostalgia - the hockey game had a very important two points on the line.
The big difference in preparation for this game is that Columbus had Friday off after a Thursday win in Dallas. Washington was "fresh off the plane" after their Friday night home victory vs. Buffalo. And let's face it, Buffalo is in our conference and was 1 point behind us in the standings coming into Friday's game. They have spanked us twice this season. Columbus is in the other conference and is the NHL's worst team. So, while Columbus most likely viewed the Caps as a "statement game" and threw everything they had at us --- Washington probably viewed the game in Columbus as the only thing standing between them and New Year's Sex.
Of course, it shouldn't be that way. The Caps certainly have not been playing consistently enough to view games as afterthoughts. They certainly have not displayed that blue-collar work ethic enough to justify looking down on teams. And, as the Caps are still on the outside looking in of the playoff race, they certainly are in no position to piss away points in the standings.
So I will leave it to you to decide. Did they coast their way through the first 40 minutes of the game for no good reason? Or, were the Caps justifiably tired as they were playing their 3rd game in 4 nights and the back-end of a back-to-back set? Did they get cocky after big wins vs. the Rangers and Sabres? Or, was Columbus just that good on Saturday night?
Whatever you think, it is with mixed emotions that I announce the Washington Capitals that get spanked in games are gone. The Caps that we all know, love, and hate are officially back.
Yes, those Washington Capitals that give no indication whatsoever that they give a flying fuck about the game until the 3rd period. Those Washington Capitals who put together one 5 to 10 minute stretch of disgustingly awesome hockey and have that stretch carry them through the game. The Caps that watch their two Russian superstar snipers light up the scoreboard. The Caps that can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat like it ain't a 'thang.
Welcome back, Cardiac Caps.
God bless Columbus. It must be frustrating to be a Blue Jacket. They certainly owned the first two periods. They brought energy. They threw bodies around. They generated scoring chances. Derek Dorsett did an amazing job of agitating Alex Ovechkin (even goading AO into going to the penalty box at the same time as Dorsett - a trade the Blue Jackets are obviously willing to make).
I don't know who the hell John Moore is and I had no idea Samuel Pahlsson was still in the league. But, those were well earned goals by them. Both of them, btw, got their 2nd tally of the season with their goals last night.
At second intermission, I even tweeted that I thought the Caps had no chance of coming back. They looked dead and uninspired. It just wasn't their night.
And there's the rub. Just like that, it was their night and they played like the game was never in any doubt.
Ovechkin has the puck squirt over to him. Boom! 1-2. A few minutes later, Alexander Semin shows off the dirtiest wrist shot in the league. We're tied at 2. Not even a minute later and Dennis Wideman drills it past Steve Mason. We're up 3-2. A PPG by Ovechkin and this one is in the bag. 4-2 Caps. Ok, they had to kill a penalty after that. But, they did. And, they won.
Finally, three straight wins. The last time the Caps did that was the the final three games of their 7-0 start to the season.
With wins against NYR, BUF, and CBJ seemingly the Caps are starting to work their way out of their doldrums. But, where to? Maybe we've just gone from the Caps who weren't even going to make the playoffs back to the Caps who will make the playoffs only to crash out in early rounds.
But the thing is, if I had to pick between those two types of Caps (play like shit and not even make the playoffs vs. string together enough good hockey to get into the playoffs but most likely crash out early), the one I'd have is rather obvious. Because only one of those choices allows for the possibility of finally mastering the playoffs and winning the whole damn thing. You gotta be in it to win it, right?
Well, for many reasons personal and hockey related, I am more than happy to leave 2011 in the past. I look forward to 2012. And so should the Caps.
Because while both myself and the Caps struggled for most of 2011 - we enter 2012 with something we are more than happy to see again:
Happy New Year. May you have an awesome 2012........