FREDERICK, MD – On the eve of a pivotal game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, fans of the eliminated Washington Capitals finally chose their allegiance. ”If Bylsma doesn’t play Marc-Andre Fleury, he’ll be squandering the Pens’ chance at the Cup,” said 24-year-old die-hard Caps fan Steve Neuschwander of Monrovia, MD. “I mean, I know his playoff save percentage has been under 90% for the last few years, but that just means he’s due.”
Neuschwander, wearing a custom-embroidered KOLZILLA Caps jersey and smelling vaguely of stale Keystone, continued, “You put your trust in Flower; he won’t let you down.” Holding one hand to his chest and the other to the sky, Neuschwander proclaimed, “I want the Penguins to win this as much as anyone, and they’re not gonna do it without MAF.”
Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirthspoke to the Czech website iSport.Cz on Monday, and boy oh boy did he have some fascinating opinions to share. Talking with František Suchan, Neuvirth departed from the meek personality he’s cultivated since joining the Capitals in ’08-’09 and spoke with remarkable candor about a wide range of topics. We’d like to direct your attention to his quotes on the goalie situation in D.C.— both last season and in the future. Neuvy says he considers Braden Holtby his “weakest competition” since he’s been in D.C., expresses his frustration over always being the “bridesmaid” in net, and admits that he urged Tomas Vokoun to sign with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
We really want to talk to the person who gave their tickets to these guys. (Photo credit: Greg Fiume)
There was certainly a special buzz in the air today. With most schools shutdown and most work-places deserted for the upcoming Christmas holiday, Caps fans traveled in droves to Kettler Capitals Iceplex to cheer on their hometown team during their pre-game skate. Why? Because the Pittsburgh Penguins were in town.
The energy the Caps felt in the morning certainly translated to the game as one minute in, Alex Ovechkin laid out frenemy, Evgeny Malkin, with one of his biggest hits of the season. The crowd went wild. The Penguins lost their composure. And seconds later, as Evgeny Malkin looked for retribution, he took a two minute interference call. The Capitals get a powerplay!
Unfortunately for our heroes, there was too much standing around, and there wasn’t enough crashing of the net in their ensuing man advantage. The Penguins savvily killed off the powerplay and seized back momentum immediately on a beautiful deflection goal by Sidney Crosby at 3:21.
Thirty-one game minutes later, the Capitals tied it up at the tail end of a 5-on-3 powerplay. Mike Green, who had pinched-in to the top of the face-off circle, riffled a slapshot to the top corner of the net. The game stayed tied 1-1, until the beginning of the third, when Sidney Crosby challenged three Capitals players, flicked the puck towards the net, and found Chris Kunitz who backhanded a shot home.
Things looked dicey until team leader Mike Knuble converted on a crazy 2-on-1 goal while the Caps were shorthanded. The two teams then went to Overtime. Despite what looked to be another goal by Mike Green, the extra five minutes of 4-on-4 hockey could not decide a victor. After an exciting shootout, Pascal Dupuis scored at the bottom of the 7th round. Pens beat Caps 3-2 (SO).
It seems the Caps of old are back. The last few weeks, really ever since the Olympic break, the team has lacked its luster. But in this fourth and final game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Washington Capitals brought a ton of heart and their signature roll-call scoring with them.
Thanks to goals from Alex Semin, Mike Knuble, Tomas Fleischmann, Matt Bradley, and then two more from some other guy, the Caps emerged victorious. Maybe it’s the Penguins are flagging late in the season, or maybe the Caps really are the better team. Watching the despondent faces of Pens fans trickling out of Mellon Arena, it doesn’t matter much to me; I’m just happy.
Springtime was magical. Puck fans watched with rapt attention as the Capitals overcame a 3-game deficit to beat the Rangers, and we felt like we were living in charmed times. ”Could this be the year the Caps actually do it?”, we would whisper to ourselves in quiet corners. The team never looked better than it did during those last four games against New York, and we wondered how far it could go.
We would gather at our friends’ houses, donned in red, and we would cheer the team from afar. Tickets were just too darn expensive, so we’d need to pick our game well. Not attending wasn’t an option. The team was too good to miss. Semyon Varlamov had risen from obscurity to become the Kerri Strug of goalies (that is, lithe and successful). The trifecta of Semin, Ovechkin, and Backstrom had turned D.C. into a veritable hero city. Mike Green and his ever-shrinking mohawk was weaponeering his defense. And a young team rallied around its senior Russian, Sergei Federov.
So when the Caps moved up two games over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the conference playoffs, we knew it was our time. We would secure tickets to the Caps Stanley Cup finals. But everything started to go pear-shaped, and we began to worry if such a series would arrive at all. The Pens snatched the next two games, and we were in a pickle. My friends and I advanced our schedule and procured tickets to the tentative game seven of the Pens-Caps series.