Capitals' Stanley Cup chances rest on GM George McPhee
Gritty win. Playoff style. Against a Stanley Cup finalist, no less. And on the first night in two-plus years that Alex Ovechkin did not have a single shot on goal.
The Detroit Red Wings aren't a better team than the Capitals anymore, but they played better for large portions of Tuesday night.
Until Nicklas Backstrom happened.
Until David Steckel, deflecting the game-winner in front of the net as if he were in Pittsburgh for Game 6 last May, happened.
That ornery, dig-deep, penalty-kill at the end to seal this 3-2 scrum was more beautiful than the goals. Bodies and sticks flailing, José Theodore sliding, lunging. That puck could not find a nook or cranny to sneak through.
"This is the kind of game we used to lose," Ted Leonsis said, walking down the corridor from the locker room, where he had congratulated the men he pays to put on the best show on ice.
"To go to the next level?" the owner added. "We need health and luck -- and maybe at the trading deadline George to make a deal if he feels he needs something. He's got the wherewithal to do whatever he wants then."
That's the key, right there.
See, they've all but locked up their division with three months to go. Concern over the development of their young, supreme talent is about gone; yes, Ovie, Backie and the kids are that good.
For the Capitals now it's not about raising a Southeast Division banner or continuing to put on the most enthralling entertainment in the NHL. Beating the Red Wings or the rival Penguins in January should not even be paramount anymore.
(Though, admittedly, when Backstrom used the Red Wings as pylons and tied the score Tuesday night with less than seven minutes left, and seconds later, before the public-address announcer had even finished announcing Backstrom's goal, Steckel brought the building to a frenzy with his deflection, what more fury can a team unleash in the final minutes of a pulsating victory?)
Putting on a show, becoming a great regular season team is old hat trick here. That's why the onus of raising the Stanley Cup in Washington is not on Bruce Boudreau or Ovechkin or any Hershey call-up like Karl Alzner. Not at the moment.