As we wind down to the end of the year, we’ll toss out a top-ten of sorts for your consideration – the top-ten Capitals’ stories for 2008. These things being what they are, you might have your own, and that what this is intended to do...start a conversation. So, this being a day the Caps playing the Flyers, we start with...
Number 10. Game 7
We’ll get this one out of the way quickly. In the first round of the 2008 Stanley Cup playoffs the Caps found themselves pitted against an old foe – the Philadelphia Flyers. Washington stormed back from a 4-2 second intermission deficit to defeat the Flyers, 5-4, in Game 1 of the series. The game was marked by a game-tying power play goal mid-way through the third period by Mike Green moments after Patrick Thoresen blocked a shot in what might be the ultimate “groin injury.” Alex Ovechkin won it when he stole the puck from Lasse Kukkonen in the Flyer end and sliding it past Martin Biron.
It was a great start marred by an all-too typical Capital swoon in these situations. Philadelphia won Game 2 to gain a split at Verizon Center, then won Games 3 and 4, the latter in a second overtime on a goal by Mike Knuble that could have been the next to last nail in the coffin of a short series for the young Caps.
But then the Caps tore a page out of the Flyer operating manual and employed a more physical brand of hockey in Game 5, including a highlight reel check by Alex Ovechkin on Jim Down that sent the Flyer into the laps of his teammates on the Philadelphia bench. Alexander Semin had the game-winner deep in the third period on a power play, and the Caps held off a late charge by the Flyers to force a Game 6 in Philadelphia, 3-2.
In Game 6, the Capitals had to claw back again, this time from a 2-0 deficit barely a minute into the second period. Given the setting – a loud and ornery Wachovia Arena – it was a difficult task to reach down and come back again. But Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin scored goals to set the stage for a wild third period. Alex Ovechkin then displayed what it was that made him a favorite for the league’s most valuable player award, scoring the game-winning and insurance goals for the win, the first in the series to that point by the team that gave up the first goal.
Game sevens are unique unto themselves, and this was no exception. For the Flyers, coach John Stevens was so wound up, he walked to the rink instead of taking the bus from the team’s hotel. He might have been concerned that goalie Martin Biron was winless in five tries during the course of the season in the second of back-to-back games. The arena was as red as red can be and loud enough to crack panes of glass, especially when Nicklas Backstrom broke the ice, in a manner of speaking, with a goal early in the first. But in a harbinger of things to come, Scottie Upshall tied the game on a power play late in the first period.
The teams traded goals in the second period, the Flyers taking a lead when Sami Kapanen scored after Thoresen exacted a measure of revenge for his cup-knocker blocked shot, shoving defenseman Shaone Morrison into goaltender Cristobal Huet and giving Kapanen an open net at which to shoot.
Ovechkin tied it six minutes later by wristing the puck past Biron before the Flyer goalie could blink. It would be the last goal of regulation.
In the overtime, Tom Poti was whistled for a penalty when, skating down the right wing boards in defending R.J. Umberger’s rush, he was called for tripping Umberger. The Caps killed off all but nine seconds of the penalty, but after turning away a Kimmo Timonen shot, Huet lost trace of the puck and turned to his left. Unfortunately, the puck squirted to his right, where Joffrey Lupul backhanded it into the open net turning the Verizon Center crowd silent.
The loss left the Caps with a 1-5 record in Games 7, their only win having come at the expense of the Flyers when Dale Hunter scored an overtime goal in 1988. But, sad as the occasion was, disappointment on the faces of Caps fans as they filed out of the arena that the club would not continue their storybook season, coach Bruce Boudreau perhaps put it best…”I just told [the team] then gave me the best year of my life, and I thanked them.”
The Caps gave us all a ride, and something sorely lacking in recent years… hope.