Battle Continues For a Different Course
For much of the past 25 years, the knock on the Capitals in springtime was that, when the going got tough in the NHL playoffs and Washington faced a win-or-go-on-vacation game, the guys in the red, white and blue uniforms couldn't wait to make their tee times. In all, the Capitals faced 23 such elimination games and lost 19 of them. Of the four they won, three were in the same playoff series, 20 long years ago.
Thus, all the golf jokes stuck to the Capitals. Once the Masters was finished, the Capitals would be done soon, too. Why, sometimes it seemed they just couldn't wait to change sticks.
Not this new Capitals bunch. They just want to keep playing hockey. Apparently, nobody explained the local tradition to them. Yesterday, they played a nearly perfect first period, took a 2-0 lead early in the second that they never relinquished and beat the Flyers, 3-2, at Verizon Center to force a Game 6 in Philadelphia tomorrow.
"We can play an even better game on Monday," said goalie Cristobal Huet, who saved the season by making 20 stops in a furious third-period assault. "I like our chances."
This headstrong crew, which got its goals from young Nicklas Backstrom, 20, and Alexander Semin, 24, plus 38-year-old Sergei Fedorov, has a novel new modus operandi. They don't want to visit the cherry blossoms or wangle their way onto Congressional in April. They don't want to heal their bodies and congratulate themselves after a 4 1/2 -month push, from last place into the playoffs, that already has given them more dignity than most teams ever claim.
"We're going to leave everything in that building in Philadelphia," rookie coach Bruce Boudreau said. "I don't know what we'll have left for Game 7 [back at the Phone Booth on Tuesday], if there is one. But we'll be ready on Monday."
So, freeze 'em in a block of NHL ice, grill them like a Philly cheesesteak, put them behind three games to one to the veteran Flyers, but these Capitals just don't want to take the easy way out and call it a season. Instead, these goofballs call for more tape and gauze. Just fix their bloody noses and chipped teeth as fast as possible. They want to keep playing smelly, bloody, smash-my-face-into-the-glass-one-more-time hockey for as long as they possibly can.
"This was the team's best game. Nobody thinks about personal stats. It's good for us to play more games. It's great fun, great experience and we improve," said likely NHL MVP Alex Ovechkin, 22, who once again was held without a goal by sweet-skating defenseman Kimmo Timonen, who barely touches the Caps star yet seems to cut off his every angle and anticipate his moves. Of their visit to Philly, Ovechkin said: "We don't have time to make mistakes. It's going to be hard. But we can do it. We don't care what anybody says about us."
And if there is a Game 7?
"Our crowd is great," Ovechkin said. "They will push us."
Because the Capitals are both the physically bigger and the younger team, with Fedorov the only elder statesman, back-to-back games might favor Washington.
"It could work in our favor," said Capitals General Manager George McPhee, who knows how tough it will be to force Game 7 on Tuesday. Even this must-win for Washington, a game Philadelphia could afford to squander, went down to the wire with a late Flyers goal leading to a wild final 4 minutes 43 seconds, with Philadelphia in almost complete control throughout the entire final period.