Washington's Big 3 Came Up Huge

Ryan Zimmerman took a curtain call after his game-ending homer last Sunday gave Washington a 3-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves and opened Nationals Park in grand style.
Ryan Zimmerman took a curtain call after his game-ending homer last Sunday gave Washington a 3-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves and opened Nationals Park in grand style. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
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Sunday, April 6, 2008; Page D02

Talk about a week of drama involving Gilbert Arenas, Alex Ovechkin and Ryan Zimmerman -- three of the brightest stars in Washington.

Arenas returned to the Wizards on Wednesday night after missing 66 games with a knee injury, scoring 17 points in almost 20 minutes against the Milwaukee Bucks. But Agent Zero didn't just show up at Verizon Center and join a layup line. He appeared on the court with about five minutes left in the first quarter in a scene teammate Brendan Haywood called "a Willis Reed moment" -- recalling Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals, when the captain of the New York Knicks limped onto the court with a severe thigh injury to inspire his team over the Los Angeles Lakers.

Gilbert's return was stirring, too, despite the Wizards losing in the last second when Ramon Sessions, that much-renowned Bucks reserve guard, ran down a loose ball with 1.1 seconds left, called timeout and then scored the winning basket. Did Ramon follow that remarkable sequence by selling beers to the departing fans?

The defeat was devastating for many, but none more than WTEM's play-by-play man Dave Johnson, who kept repeating "what a way to lose."

The previous night in the same arena, Ovechkin rocketed his NHL-leading 63rd goal of the season into the Carolina net to ensure the Caps' 4-1 victory and send a sellout crowd of 18,277 into a frenzy -- keeping alive the team's playoff hopes. Two nights later, Alex the Great rammed home two more goals, the second a game-winner in a 4-1 win over Tampa Bay. Ovechkin has my vote for MVP -- if I voted.

Meanwhile, Zimmerman's heroics began last Sunday night with a game-winning home run in the ninth inning, giving the Nationals a 3-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves in the first regular season game at Nationals Park. Three nights later, Zimmerman homered in the Nats' 1-0 win in Philadelphia. Zimmerman has my vote for MVP of the first week, if there were such an election. His dramatics highlighted the opening of Nationals Park that included President Bush throwing out the first pitch to cheers and boos from a great crowd.

Making It the Hard Way

Still, life isn't all about superstars and presidential openers.

Case in point: Bruce Boudreau, the 53-year-old career minor leaguer who once coached the Muskegon Fury, Fort Wayne Komets, Mississippi Sea Wolves, Lowell Lock Monsters, Manchester Monarchs and Hershey Bears and now coaches the Caps. Boudreau, who had cups of coffee as a player in the NHL, is 36-17-7 since taking over for Glen Hanlon in late November, with a six-game winning streak going into the weekend, including taking 10 of 11 down the stretch.

In a league where many of the coaches wear Canali suits ($1,500 retail), Boudreau proudly sports your basic black suit, red shirt and red-and-gray tie -- harboring no additional sartorial ambitions.

"I'm cheap," Boudreau said in a brief wardrobe discussion the other night. "I've been in the minors for more than 30 years. This works for me."

But Boudreau is officially big league. What a job he did. His bosses, owner Ted Leonsis and GM George McPhee, ought to sign him up now for next year. With a Canali-type raise.

Second case in point: Haywood, the oft-maligned, 7-foot Wizards center who is in his seventh NBA season, has been solid all year, averaging 10.5 points and helping the team to its fourth straight playoff appearance.

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