Monday, March 10, 2008

All-in-all, not a bad ending...after eight overtimes

From the "are they still playing?" file...

They played a hockey game in Michigan last Saturday night...and almost into Sunday morning. It was the Michigan high school Division I championship, played by Orchard Lake St. Mary's and Marquette at Compuware Arena in Plymouth Township, MI. 109 minutes of hockey, 64 of which were played in overtime, ended at 11:45 p.m. Saturday night. There were 91 saves, 53 of them on the overtime sessions. Needless to say, St. Mary's goaltender Ryan Morley-Stockton and Marquette netminder Jon Nezich were the stars of the game.

Shane Halaas, a forward for St. Mary's, was no stranger to the events that unfolded. Last November, he played in the longest football game in state history in the finals (five overtimes).

The Detroit Free Press has articles on the marathon that you can find here and here. They also have a photo gallery you can see here.

Meanwhile, the Detroit News has a look here.

Randy Allen, the Michigan High School Athletic Association assistant director in charge of hockey, in an interview with ESPN Radio, indicated that one team was awarded the trophy, the other the medals, and each of the schools will receive the other shortly to complete the well-deserved acknowledgments.

We'll leave it to young Mr. Halaas for the final word...
"Everyone will get a ring and everyone is happy. After eight overtimes, there is no loser. It ended the right way."

They're all champs...

photo: Ankur Dholakia/The Detroit News

Ovechkin named first star of the week

From the NHL...

Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin, New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur and San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton have been named the NHL's 'Three Stars' for the week ending March 9.


Ovechkin reached the 50-goal mark for the second time in his three NHL seasons Mar. 3, scoring a hat trick and adding two assists in Washington's 10-2 victory over the Boston Bruins. He reached the milestone in his team's 67th game of the season, the fastest since the Pittsburgh Penguins' Jaromir Jagr and Mario Lemieux (59th game) and the Buffalo Sabres' Alexander Mogilny (63rd game) in 1995-96. Ovechkin later scored a pair of goals in a 3-1 victory over the Sabres Mar. 5, tallied one assist in a 2-1 loss to the Bruins Mar. 8 and finished the week with two assists in a 4-2 loss to the Penguins Mar. 9. Ovechkin leads the NHL scoring race with 95 points (54-41--95) in 70 games.

Attendance Watch

A graphical look at it after 35 games...

The points represent averages for the preceding five games, the line representing the low point (record-wise) of the season.

Every year, it seems there is a team... know the one...

The one that no one wants to play if they get into the playoffs...

The one that is closing the season with a rush...

The one that has a lot of promise and can do some damage if they get in...

The one whose future looks bright, even if their present is frustrating.

The Caps -- who are by no means out of it, yet (we won't be changing that threat warning graphic for some games yet) -- seem to be that team this year. They're on the wrong side of the playoff window, despite a fine record since Thanksgiving and a host of young guys that have carried the club for most of that stretch.

Last year, there was a similar team...lots of kids in the prospect pool...a decent, if flawed parent roster...a club that closed with a rush (9-4-0 in their last 13 games to finish two points out of the playoffs).

That team is Montreal, owners of the number-two seed in the East this morning.

It helps to take the long view of things...

The origins of "The Curse"

There is no other team in the National Hockey League that has inflicted more torment on the Capitals than the Pittsburgh Penguins.

We think we now know why. It is the revenge of the hockey gods for smiting one of their own.

A little history is in order. When the Capitals entered the league in 1974, they were bad. No, not just bad, "bad for the ages" bad. They lost to everyone, including the Penguins. From the inaugural 1974-75 season through 1981-82, the Caps' record against Pittsburgh in the regular season was 16-24-6...not really all that bad considering how bad the Caps were in those early years.

Then when the Caps achieved some competitive success, they took care of business against the Penguins...from 1982-83 through 1986-87, they were 24-7-2. But it was in the last game of that 1986-87 series that the seeds of the curse were planted.

It was March 20, 1987. Caps fans of a certain age will know that date and its significance right away. It was a Friday night in Washington, and the Caps came into the contest with the Penguins struggling with a 30-32-9 record, desperately trying to qualify for the playoffs. Then, there was the third fight in this video...

Bob Gould one-punched Mario Lemieux, who had to be led off the ice draped over the shoulders of two teammates, into a concussion. The Caps won that game, 4-3, and would not lose again in the regular season, finishing 8-0-1 to make the playoffs.

That, my friends, is what is referred to as a "Pyrrhic" victory. Since that knockout, the Caps are 33-57-8 in the regular season against the Penguins and have won a season series against Pittsburgh only three times in 20 seasons. There is also the not-so-small matter of the 1-6 record in playoff series in which the Caps have a 16-26 record in games played.

It all started with a punch.

Bob?...I love ya, and it was certainly a sight to see the big guy dropped like a sack of poutine, but maybe...just's time to say you're sorry.

A no-point afternoon: Penguins 4 - Caps 2

It stinks.

Their fans came and cheered, their team played and won, their fans stayed and celebrated.

It stinks.

It’s supposed to stink. If it didn’t, then why would we bother showing up for these games? If we didn’t care, we’d just say, “ah, #@$& it…I’ll stay home and watch the inevitable on TV.”

The Caps played 59:30 of a great game yesterday, but found a way to let the last 30 seconds get away from them in dropping a 4-2 result to the Pittsburgh Penguins at Verizon Center.

Nicklas Backstom scored an own-goal with 27.8 seconds left to join the ranks of Capitals who have done some odd things in this series against the Penguins – almost all of them bad over the last 20 years. For those of you who keep score of such things, the regular season series stands (with overtime/shootout losses counted as losses), 73-88-16. Unfortunately, 2-10-0 of that is in the last three years.

If you looked at the numbers – and only the numbers – you’d think the Caps won this game, oh…5-2:

Shots: 38-26, Caps
Total shots taken: 63-51, Caps
Giveaways: Penguins 11, Caps 9
Takeaways: Caps 11, Penguins 5
Faceoffs: Caps 39, Penguins 22 (63.9 percent)

But in the end, it was the same old story…the Penguins finished (or had things finished for them), the Caps didn’t.

Alex Ovechkin had three tap-ins on his stick in the first period alone and twice had the puck jump over his stick (the third he mis-hit). Alexander Semin had several opportunities to walk down the slot and fire and ended up hitting Marc-Andre Fleury’s logo (his goal was scored on a pretty stick move in close to Fleury’s right that appeared to fool the goaltender). Backstrom, who other than the miscue at the end had a superb game, had four shots of his own that didn’t find twine. The guys you would have wanted to take shots for the Caps – Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom, Viktor Kozlov, Mike Green, Eric Fehr – had 28 of the 38 shots. Cristobal Huet was sharp; the defense was taking care of business by moving the puck smartly out of trouble and away from the Penguins’ big guns.

All of which meant that the Penguins had the Caps right where they wanted them.

The Caps could convert only one of those 28 shots from prime scorers, although the Brooks Laich goal (his 17th) was a redirection goal off a shot from Semin.

That the Caps could be so unsuccessful with spending so much time in the Pittsburgh end on this day and launching so many shots from such high-probability scoring area argues for Fleury’s being named number-one star. He certainly was ours.

That Evgeni Malkin was named first star, Ovechkin second star, and Crosby third star seemed to us equal cases of laziness in looking at the game and theater (since they were the marquee players in the game promotions). We would have had Fleury as the first star, Jordan Staal as the second star (he played a whale of an all-around game), and Malkin as the third star.

For the Caps, this loss is not crushing, except perhaps to the spirit. It capped an odd and most unsatisfying weekend, one in which both games – to Boston and Pittsburgh – were lost in the last five minutes under somewhat strange circumstances (a rash of penalties in one, an own-goal in the other)...the first time in 48 games the Caps lost consecutive games in regulation. Had both games been won, and this team should believe it should have won both games, the Caps would be poised to embark on their last dozen games only two points behind Philadelphia for eighth place and three behind Carolina for the Southeast lead with a game in hand. As it is, the Caps are six points behind the Flyers and seven behind the Hurricanes with those dozen games left to play.

The Caps do not have to win out to make the playoffs, but it’s getting close to that level of desperation. They probably need no fewer than 18 points in their last dozen games to qualify, and that with a six-game road trip looming that starts next Tuesday in Nashville.

Bruce Boudreau said after the game that, "That was officially heartbreaking." He was likely speaking of Backstrom’s well-intentioned error at the end. But he might have been speaking of the larger game, and of the still larger realization that for the spirited comeback the Caps have made from the depths of the conference back in late November, it might not be enough.

It stinks.