Sunday, April 6, 2008

Don't stop believin'!!!

Cue the classic Journey song

The Washington Capitals clinched their first trip to the playoffs in five years with a 3-1 win over the Florida Panthers on Saturday night. As if that wasn't enough, the Caps vaulted all the way from 9th place and being directly on the fringe of making the playoffs to the 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference as Southeast Division champs (SOUTHEAST! SOUTH SOUTHEAST!!). I think this blog post by a Carolina Hurricanes fan (the team who led the division for the majority of the season, only to blow a chance to secure a playoff spot in its final game of the season) sums up the situation pretty well...

Take into account, if you will, that the Caps ranked 30th out of 30 in the NHL at Thanksgiving. The team then fired coach Glen Hanlon, promoted minor league coach Bruce Boudreau of the Caps' top affiliate, the Hershey Bears, and ranked 14th out 15 Eastern Conference teams by Christmas. General Manager/genius George McPhee traded for goalie Cristobal Huet, 90's superstar Sergei Federov and live wire/s**t starter Matt Cooke on deadline day in February and the resurrection began in earnest. The Caps went on to win 11 of their last 12 games and Huet won his last seven consecutive starts to end the season and propel them into the playoffs ahead of the sputtering Hurricanes.  

And after today's 2-0 defeat of Pittsburgh, we know that we will be facing the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round. Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell explains why the Caps are a real-life sports fairy tale here, while top-notch Caps blogger JP continues to offer his in-depth analysis here (also linked to on the right-hand side of this page).

After five years without playoff hockey in the District, it will almost feel strange seeing the Capitals back in the fray. The intensity level is raised so much higher in the NHL playoffs than it is in probably any other sport and without the home team involved in them for so long, I've kind of forgotten what it feels like. Thankfully, the D.C. area will have a chance to become re-acquainted with postseason hockey. 

Having the Caps back in the playoffs also strikes a very personal chord with me, more than as simply a sports fan. The first sporting event I ever went to was a Caps game against the Detroit Red Wings, back in the old Capital Centre in Landover, Md. when I was about six years old. My dad was a big Capitals fan and, consequently, so was I after he took me to that game. I don't remember the score, but it was an unusually lopsided victory for Washington, something like 9-4. From that moment, I was hooked.

The Capitals were my dad's second favorite sports team (second only to the Redskins), which, as much as sports were a part of our household, is saying quite a lot. My family originally got cable so he could watch them play on HTS (Home Team Sports, the pre-cursor to Comcast SportsNet). To this day, I still don't know how my dad, a black man from Northwest DC, became so infatuated with hockey. But however it happened, the Washington Capitals in turn became a big part of my childhood, as well me and my father's relationship. This lasted until I got to middle school and self-consciousness and popularity changed my outlook on a lot of things. Hockey was no longer considered "popular," thus I cut all ties with the sport and did not really get back into it until a few years ago.

As you may or may not know, my dad passed away this past August. Having the Capitals back in the playoffs, especially in such a dramatic fashion, brings back so many memories from the good old days, when me and my dad were glued to the set watching my heroes Peter Bondra, Kelly Miller and Rod Langway, among others, play out my dreams on the screen. I don't know how these playoffs will turn out exactly, or how far this Capitals team will progress from here. But all that matters is that the Caps are back in the playoffs.

Damn, it feels good.


  1. Well said man. The caps definatly have quite the vibe with them during this run. Also, the playoff seeding has left us with the possibility of two old school Patrick Division matchups in the first and second rounds, and that can only be a good thing. Although thought of potential "Southeast! South Southeast!) chants could be the tightest and only redeeming quality of this crappy division structure.

  2. If things keep going like they're going, we'll have Caps-Pens in round 2. I know I don't want to play you guys right now. You're on fire.