The difference between winning and losing, success and failure, joy and despair might be thinner in hockey than in any other team sport. The Washington Capitals and their fans could testify to the veracity of that statement. For years – decades – Capitals Nation always seemed to be on the dark side of that margin. It could hardly be helped if many in the Nation asked themselves over the years in frustration, “what if?” As in...
- “What if that puck didn’t graze the shaft of Rod Langway’s stick in the fourth overtime against the Islanders on Easter morning in 1987, changing its direction by an inch or two to elude Bob Mason?”
- “What if Esa Tikkanen scores that goal after he deked Detroit goalie Chris Osgood to the ice in the third period of Game 2 in the Stanley Cup final with the Caps nursing a one-goal lead?”
- “What if Sergei Gonchar doesn’t lose the puck on some bad ice at his own blue line in overtime of Game 6 against Pittsburgh in 2001?”
- “What if Jason Doig waits a second longer to jump onto the ice in the third overtime of Game 6 against Tampa Bay on Easter in 2003?”
- “What if the ref put his whistle in his pocket in overtime against the Flyers in 2008 instead of calling Tom Poti for an iffy tripping penalty, or on the ensuing power play Cristobal Huet doesn't look in the wrong direction in search of a loose puck after making the initial save?”
- “What if Alex Ovechkin scores on a breakaway early in Game 7 against the Penguins in 2009?”
- “What if one puck – one stinking puck – hit a body or a stick or a skate on the way to Jaroslav Halak in any of the last three games against Montreal in 2010?”
- “What if the Caps won a defensive zone faceoff in overtime against the Rangers in Game 7 in 2015?”
- “What if the Caps won one of the two overtime losses to Pittsburgh over the last three games of their 2016 series?”
It seemed that whenever there was a critical, game-changing, series-turning moment, it always changed or turned in the opponent’s favor. But oh, how that script was flipped in 2018…
After losing Games 1 and 2 on home ice, both in overtime, to the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Caps could have gone down, 0-3, when they went to a second overtime in Game 3, but this happened…
How many times did that puck change direction after Brett Connolly took the original shot?
And it only started there...
- What if Nicklas Backstrom doesn’t get his stick on a Dmitry Orlov shot in overtime of Game 5 of that series to give the Caps a 3-2 lead heading back to Columbus instead of the Blue Jackets taking a lead back home with a chance to eliminate the Caps?
- What if Alex Ovechkin swings and misses instead of batting the puck out of mid-air on a rebound with 67 seconds left in regulation in Game 3 against the Penguins in Pittsburgh to give the Caps a 2-1 lead in games and regain home-ice advantage that they lost when they split their first two games at home?
- What if Tom Kuhnhackl’s shot off the post just before the three-minute mark of overtime goes in instead of caroming out to send the series against the Penguins back to Washington for a seventh game instead of Evgeny Kuznetsov scoring the game/series winner two minutes later?
- What if Alex Tuch gets a couple more inches of air under his shot from point blank range with two minutes left in regulation in Game 2 and the Caps hanging on by their fingernails to a one-goal lead and already down a game in the series?
- What if, when he is tripped by Colin Miller while taking a shot, Devante Smith-Pelly is knocked off balance enough to whiff on his shot instead of scoring the game-tying goal ten minutes into the third period of Game 6 against Vegas?
- What if, less than three minutes later in the same game, the puck does not sneak between the legs of Marc-Andre Fleury just enough off a shot from Brett Connolly for Lars Eller to swoop in and bat home what would be the game-winning/series-clinching/Cup-winning/grief-ending goal?
The poet John Milton once said, “luck is the residue of design.” The Capitals put themselves in a position to win games, clinch series, and capture the Stanley Cup by virtue of clever design and artful execution of a game plan. But hockey being what it is, a certain randomness – luck, if you will – will present itself from time to time. And after decades of seeing those lucky bounces swing the opponent’s way, the Caps put themselves in a position to reap the benefits of luck shining on their side of the ice. They earned their good fortune.
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