On Jan. 15, 2006, Wayne Gretzky himself watched the Jumbotron to catch a replay of Alex Ovechkin’s goal. Sliding on his back, blind, from an impossible angle.
I have a lot of things to write about in the next couple weeks. Mike Green’s nomination for NHL Foundation’s Player Award for Charitable and Community Work is just one of the ways in which the Caps are alive and well doing the philanthropy and service work I love, and fans should take great pride in that.
But today, I have to find a way to say something about the Caps’ devastating second-round loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Swept in four games. What do you say about that? Well, to start with, you fall back on quotes from the very same sports movies that populate the montages we see at Verizon Center during games:
“The inches we need are everywhere around us. They’re in every break of the game, every minute, every second... I’ll tell you this, in any fight it’s the guy who’s willing to die who’s going to win that inch.” — Al Pacino in Any Given Sunday
“Have you? Given me your very best? Because I know there’s a whole lot more in you, a whole other level, that for some reason you just don’t want to go to.” - Miracle
Who am I to say that the Caps have more to give than we saw against Tampa Bay this year, and Montreal last year? I’m just a fan, and I can’t know that we’re not digging deep enough, or that we lack that intangible thing that’s neither talent nor luck, but the kind of sheer passion and drive that makes it look like a guy is literally on fire every time he touches the puck.
So instead of saying what we do or don’t have, or what we do or don’t have to do to get there (hint: it might involve trimming some fat on the roster), I’m just going to say what I want for next year. I want the Caps to cross the divide from professional to elite, and I believe that requires exactly what Ovechkin exemplified the night he scored The Goal (and not with great consistency since then).
Elite players believe in what they’re doing for just a split-second longer. They believe they can stay on their feet, get the shot off, make the save, win the race to the puck for an extra fraction of a moment, and strung together, that translates to a robust 60 minutes every night. For goalies we call it “standing on their head” when they make a save that’s jaw-droppingly impossible. I’m ready to expect headstands not just from our rapidly-developing goaltenders, but from every guy on the ice.
Thanks to the Caps organization — players, coaches, ownership, and more — for another memorable season. Thanks to Joe Beninati and Craig Laughlin for making fans feel like we’re part of the inside joke, and thanks to Box Sets readers for making me think longer and harder about this team than ever before. Stick around — I have a feeling it’s not going to be a silent off-season in the Caps’ camp.