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Winter Olympics a tough break for red-hot Washington Capitals

By Mike Wise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 10, 2010; D01

We have run out of bread and milk. We can't move our vehicles. We can't move our muscles.

We are snowed in until June, people. June!

We are trapped in a Ukranian hamlet, huddled around a bonfire trying to thaw, comforted by just three things: grain alcohol, the thought of global warming and our money-in-the-bank hockey team -- Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom and the boys, winners of 14 consecutive games.

We are fed up. We are freezing. We are "Dr. Zhivago" with a Target.

All we have left is the Caps. C-A-P-S! Caps! Caps! Caps!

But now we're face to face with the most dangerous opponent the Capitals will face from now until the Stanley Cup playoffs: Dick Ebersol, the chairman of NBC Sports. In the selfish interest of padding his Olympic programming this month, the NBC executive is about to take away our joy for 17 days.

Just so he can have the best hockey players in the world playing for gold in Vancouver, Ebersol could end up hijacking the Caps' scintillating season, without so much as delivering a mid-ice check.

Ebersol is kidnapping five of our best hockey players, including Alex Ovechkin, for 2 1/2 weeks. Beginning Sunday, he is taking them to western Canada, right in the middle of the greatest regular season in, oh, the history of North American sports. Sure, he can tell us a Canada-Russia final would be another chance to get back at Sidney Crosby and the Penguins. He can say the Olympics will further brand the NHL's superstars. From Vancouver with love, this is what Ebersol told us:

"If the prognosticators are correct and Washingtonians have the affection for the Caps you say they do, then it may be the first time in history that people inside the Beltway root for Russia."

Look, this town has not lost a hockey game in almost a month. The Caps ridiculously outscore everyone in the NHL. Just in the past 14 games, they have 24 more third-period goals than their opponents. They are on their way to sewing up home ice for the Stanley Cup playoffs, all right -- through 2015.

Did you see Sunday's bedlam -- that electrifying rally, from 4-1 down, to beat Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Sequins like a Hopi drum? Win No. 14 would have been called sweet if the hockey hipsters used "sweet," which they don't. So let's just call it "sick," the term preferred by Ovechkin to connote "totally awesome."

After the Caps beat Montreal on the road Wednesday and crush their next two foes into bone meal for their 17th straight victory by Saturday, they will have tied the all-time consecutive wins mark.

But now the downer, brought to you by Ebersol and NBC:

Before the Caps go for No. 18 and the record, the network has a shaky agreement with the NHL that forces its players to take this hiatus every four years so the league's paid stars can go play for the glory of their countries.

Which would be fine and patriotic and all -- if the glory of Washington weren't more important right now.

In absconding with our players for 2 1/2 weeks at the very moment they are on the cusp of NHL history, Ebersol is the one force that can come between this momentous winning streak and the delicate on-ice chemistry no Caps fan wants disturbed.

We know eight of the San Jose Sharks are leaving their team. We know five Penguins and six Devils are going to Vancouver. We don't care. Pittsburgh and New Jersey have won the Cup. San Jose is in California, where it's not Snowmageddon.

If injury befalls any of Washington's Olympians in Vancouver (heaven forbid Ovie takes a reckless run at Backie), if they return without the GPS focus they had before they left, if their non-Olympic teammates fatten up on too many piƱa coladas in Barbados or Molson Extras in Saskatchewan, NBC should be held directly responsible for the Caps not hoisting Lord Stanley's chalice in June.

It's why the coach of our great team, Bruce Boudreau, doesn't want Russia to play too hard, why he told me recently, "I'm rooting for a Canada-Slovakia final."

He knows the Olympic break has killed chemistry and Cup dreams before.

In the 2005-06 season, the Detroit Red Wings were rolling before the Turin Games in Italy. Their five Swedish stars, returning after a hard-fought, gold-medal performance, were shot physically and exhausted mentally. Top-seeded Detroit went down in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, falling in six games to an Edmonton Oilers team that had no business being on the same ice.

Injury and fatigue took their toll. The Wings were never the same after the Olympic break, which played a major role in their second-half collapse.

If this were Lake Placid, 1980, fine, take 'em. But Mike Eruzione and Jim Craig are not in Hershey, waiting for the big club to call. We have just three Americans on our NHL team and -- bless their hearts -- none is going to Vancouver.

We {heart} our Rooskies -- Ovechkin and Semin and Semyon Varlamov, who is still recovering from injury and doesn't need Evgeni Malkin firing slapshots at him in practice. We need our Swede, Nicklas Backstrom. We cheer our Czech, Tomas Fleischmann.

We want our Canadian coach coaching, not eating Cheetos on his couch watching Olympic hockey.

Heck, the players don't even get to see the Opening Ceremonies. They play their final NHL game the first day of Olympic competition. On Sunday, Ovechkin, Semin and Varlamov will show up like hired mercenaries, get one practice in with their teammates, trade a few quips in their native tongue and live off Medvedev's dime for a few weeks.

For those of us here in frosty Capsville, there is no upside to this deal. We are stuck in a polar ice cap without our great hockey team and the best player on the planet.

There is only one fair trade to propose. Dick Ebersol does not have enough snow on his mountains to make celluloid magic. We have too much.

So here's the deal, Mr. Peacock: Ovie for our snow -- straight up. Either that or NBC moves the Winter Games to the frozen tundra of Arlington.

Hey, with no red to rock for 17 days, we could use the Flying Tomato. Shaun White could use the 14th Street Bridge as his half pipe. Honest.

wisem@washpost.com

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