Let me start this by going back to 1988.
I’d already been hooked by a team that already showed a propensity for struggling in playoff situations. Two years earlier, the Capitals lost to a New York Rangers team to which they had no business losing. And the year earlier, “PING!” Pat Lafontaine ended the Caps’ season in an instant early on an Easter Sunday morning.
In 1988, the Caps fell behind the Philadelphia Flyers, three games to one, in their best-of-seven first round playoff series. Then, the Caps won Game 5, a 5-2 win at Capital Centre. Then, they went into Philadelphia and flattened the Flyers, 7-2, setting up a Game 7 that would surely propel the Caps to a win over the orange and black.
We were pumped for the game. Unfortunately, something was being pumped into me – some weird virus that flattened me on the day of the game.
I could barely get out of bed. But being the faithful fan of the red, white, and blue, we scraped ourselves out of the sack, slithered into the car, and drove from Alexandria to Landover determined not to miss the Caps sticking a fork in the Flyers.
Well, things didn’t go according to the script in that game, at least early. The Caps fell behind, 3-0, and looked for all the world like I felt – sick, tired, and spent. Sure in the knowledge that the Caps would fall for the third straight year in ignominious fashion to a hated Patrick Division rival, we took our beaten, broken body and trudged to the parking lot for the long drive home and the comfort of a warm bed and a hot bowl of soup.
Well, you know how the game ended. The Caps roared back, scoring four goals before the Flyers tied the game once more. Then, Dale Hunter won his immortality as a Capital with an overtime winner past Flyer goalie Ron Hextall.
Fast forward to yesterday…
Once more, the Capitals had come back, this time from a three games to two deficit to force a Game 7, and once more we were pumped at the prospect of joining the sea of red for a Game 7 that we knew would go – finally – the Capitals’ way over a hated former Patrick Division rival that tormented the home team for years.
And once more, we were smacked down by some odd bug that left us, if not for dead, then certainly in bed for most of the day. Up until the last minute, we were convinced that we just weren’t going to be able to answer the call and resigned ourselves to watching things unfold on television. But at that last minute, we felt just well enough to make the trek to Verizon Center.
The game did not unfold as we expected or hoped. The Penguins scored two goals in the first period, and we were considering whether or not to leave for the comfort of a recliner and high-definition television. We didn’t – we stayed for the second period, only to watch the horror of a three-goal Penguin onslaught. Alex Ovechkin scoring a goal late in the period to spoil a shutout was small comfort, and at the end of the second period, we surrendered. We packed up, trudged to the car and made the long drive home. Listening to Steve Kolbe on the radio on the way home, we knew there would be no magic, no Dale Hunter moment, no Marc-Andre Fleury lying on his back, staring into the lights in the rafters as Ron Hextall did 21 years ago.
We couldn’t help but think, “if only we left after the first period,” just as we had done in the Game 7 against the Flyers way back when.
It’s a silly thought, we know, but we’ll take the blame for this one. The boys certainly don’t deserve it, not after the season they had, not after coming back not once, not twice, not three times, but four times from elimination this spring. Not after scraping themselves together from a myriad of injuries suffered along the way. Not after riding the sublime play of a goalie who had – and this never ceases to amaze me – a half dozen games of experience in the NHL before stepping onto the ice in the playoffs. Not after grabbing Washington sports by the throat with their combination of style, resilience, and talent over the last month.
Guys, don’t worry about it. It’s my fault.