Like old times, bedlam at Verizon.
With less than 10 minutes left, the same, old video montage (the kids clapping in “Hoosiers,” John Belushi and, finally, Tom Green’s “Unleash the Fury!” line) makes the building go berserk.
It’s wild, it’s crazy, it’s sooo 2008.
What a cruel tease, no? They do this every damn year. The entertainment quotient is so good for much of the 82-game regular season it almost camouflages the crushing playoff defeats the past six years.
The truth: Nobody is going to genuinely believe in this hockey team until the Caps win at least two playoff rounds for the first time in the Alex Ovechkin Era. Even the owner knows another season of theater and throaty chants amounts to little more than paying bills if the Caps can’t play deep into May.
And that’s if they get there.
“That is, to me, the most danger we can face – that the postseason is a given,” Ted Leonsis said before the Flames, a team not very good on paper, made the Caps work for a 5-4 shootout victory.
“If you start looking forward to the playoffs in Game 2, you’re in for a gigantic fall. We’re playing in a much tougher division. The league has changed, the salary cap has come down and it’s a great leveler — much more parity.”
If there is a good omen for local puckheads, it’s this: After having their predictions annually mocked the past five years, almost everyone who knows hockey in North America no longer believes in the Capitals’ chances of going anywhere after the regular season.
Hockey News has the Caps finishing sixth in the new Metropolitan Division and Sports Illustrated has them as the 11th best team in the East, out of the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
Of the 12 ESPN analysts weighing in, no one had the Caps winning the division and only Barry Melrose had them going to the Stanley Cup finals before losing to the Kings. (Melrose also had the Caps winning the East last season and Washington winning the Cup in 2012, so either The Mullet has Monumental Sports stock or he really wants to coach this team.)
Even Leonsis, who has no problem pushing back when he feels his stewardship or one of his franchises has taken a cheap shot, understands the bandwagon emptying en masse.
“The only way we can change anyone’s mind is to perform,” he said. “That’s really what this year is about. I don’t think there is a whole lot of discussion or goal-setting. Everybody knows we have to do better than we did last year.”
This is prove-it-or-lose-it year for many Capitals, but no one has to perform as well as George McPhee, the first and only general manager Leonsis has employed with the Caps. There are no reports of a contract extension; this could his last year.
If the postseason doesn’t happen for a team Leonsis has already said has all the necessary pieces to be a Cup contender, the owner might play his last card with a fan base that has a hard enough time stomaching another one-and-done season.