ChimeraGoal

Photo credit: Chris Gordon

Photo credit: Chris Gordon

Woo! (Photo credit: Alex Brandon)

For the last four seasons, the Capitals had been on a steady decline. During their Bruce Boudreau era runs for Presidents’ Trophy, they were D.C.’s team. For fans since the 70’s and young transplants in suits, Rocking the Red was all the rage.

In 2011, the team started going downhill. Boudreau was fired, with three coaches taking his place since then. Meanwhile, the Nationals got good. The Caps were no longer fashionable. The hockey wasn’t the same either. Instead of exciting run-and-gun matches, the Caps played overly defensive games and then, under Adam Oates, just plain bad ones, missing the playoffs for the first time in seven years. Despite claiming a sellout every night, Verizon Center was littered with empty purple seats.

But with Washington’s comeback victory in game two, the spark was lit. On Thursday, the Phone Booth was red, proud, and loud. The Caps dominated, beating the Islanders 5-1 and taking a 3-2 series lead.

“We love this,” Karl Alzner, who scored Thursday, told me. “The fact that we see everybody getting excited for it and feeling good about our team and about our chance at winning some games, that’s what’s exciting for us.”

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Lubomir Visnovsky leaves the game after being checked by Tom Wilson in the second period. (Photo credit: Bruce Bennett)

Last season, searching to make an impact as a rookie with limited ice time, Tom Wilson got himself into a lot of trouble, often making questionable hits and dropping the gloves whenever he got the chance. He finished the season with the seventh highest number of penalty minutes in the NHL. Now in his second season, and sometimes skating top line minutes under new head coach Barry Trotz, Wilson has moderated his game, becoming less of a wrecking ball and more of an agitator. In game four, however, the wrecking ball was back.

With Lubomir Visnovsky attempting to corral a loose puck behind his own net, Wilson came flying in, delivering a massive shoulder to chest blow. While Visnovsky was ravaged by the hit, the check appeared clean. The puck was there, Wilson never left his feet, and he hit Visnovsky square in the chest. Nevertheless, the refs took umbrage with the hit, calling Wilson for a change. The Islanders were outraged.

“He’s an idiot,” Islanders forward Kyle Okposo said of Wilson, according to the New York Post. “That guy runs around, he hits reckless. He jumps, leaves his feet. There’s no place for that.”

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ChimeraFall

Photo credit: Alex Brandon

Coming into Wednesday’s game, the Washington Capitals were confident. With a new coach this year, they had turned into a crisp, well-structured team, generally controlling the puck and therefore the play. They finished the season tied for the eighth highest point total in the league.

“In the past we were maybe sort of a rush team,” forward Brooks Laich, a veteran of the light ’em up Presidents’ Trophy winning Capitals of 2010, said. “I don’t think we’re as high flying, high octane offense as we once were, but I think we’re a lot more difficult to play against this way. It should bode well for a sustained playoff run.”

“We’re gonna be ready,” Laich concluded.

They weren’t.

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mojo-playoff-goal

The Washington Capitals were outgunned and out-hustled in the first period against the New York Islanders. It felt like every dangerous chance came off of an Isles player’s stick. And then, with under a minute to go in the period, good ol’ Canadian Boy Brooks Laich shook things up.

Laich chased Jay Beagle’s seemingly harmless dump-in and won a battle behind the net. Laich’s tenacious forecheck created chaos, then a turnover. Once he got to the puck, Laich threw a beautiful pass to Marcus Johansson, skating hard to the slot. Mojo buried it.

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brooks-laich-tooth2

After a huge penalty kill, Brooks Laich was CSN Washington’s guest for the second intermission interview. Something about Laich just looked a bit off. Did he get a new haircut? Is his beard beardier than usual? I just couldn’t put my finger on it.

Then Dave Nichols of the District Sports Page pointed it out.

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tom-wilson-big-hit-again

Tom Wilson‘s been his normal wrecking ball self tonight. Early in the game, he was ushered to the box along with Mark Fraser after both players committed roughing minors. The resulting 4-on-4 hockey led to a Karl Alzner goal.

Later in the period, Wilson laid out Eric Gelinas in the neutral zone. Gelinas’s airborne body then slammed into Brooks Laich. Ouch. I’m getting whiplash just looking at this.

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laich-goofy-smile

Brooks Laich hadn’t scored since January 7. Since then the $4.5 million a year player had been a healthy scratch and now a fourth liner. That bottom line, though, is filled with rejected top-sixers rather than talentless scrubs — one member of the Sabres organization quipped that it was better than Buffalo’s first line. On Saturday night, that line — Laich, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson — added Washington’s fourth tally of the night, Laich’s first goal in two months.

“I sort of flashed back to the first goal I ever scored in the NHL,” Laich told reporters after the game. “It was in Montreal and I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. I got back to the bench and Glen Hanlon he says ‘congratulations.’ I was like ‘dude, I can’t stop smiling.’ He was like ‘good, that’s the way it’s supposed to be.’ This one sort of felt like that.”

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tom-wilson-big-hit

Tom Wilson is talented at checking multiple people at the same time. A few weeks ago, he hit the Islanders’ Travis Hamonic and knocked over teammate Jason Chimera too. Tonight, he teamed up with Brooks Laich to wallop Matt Dumba. As per tradition, Laich fell over.

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Photo: @JulianneHough

Brooks Laich and Julianne Hough have been dating for a little over a year, and it seems to be going well despite it being a long-distance relationship– with Hough in Los Angeles and Laich in northern Virginia. Opposite coasts!

On Saturday, the couple, which I will refer to as Broolianne for the rest of this post, got to spend time together during Valentine’s Day– just because the NHL’s schedule-maker was kind to them.

During the day, Laich spent time at Hough’s home, and Broolianne took some lovely pictures for social media.

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Brooks Laich Hits PK Subban in the Junk (GIF)

subban-groin-ouch

During a first-period power play, Brooks Laich battled with PK Subban for position in front of the Habs net. These types of little skirmishes happen all the time in hockey, but I’m writing today because Laich’s confrontation with Subban got particularly gruesome.

At one point, to clear Laich from the crease, Subban punched the Capital in the chest and knocked him over. Later, Laich got Subban back by pitchforking him in a sensitive spot. As Subban skated away, Laich performed an unscheduled inspection on Subban’s protective gear. Nutcracker.

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