Like center Nicklas Backstrom, Capitals radio voice John Walton is day-to-day.
“A little more honey and tea and a couple of days of rest, I should be good to go for Friday,” Walton said Wednesday afternoon, two days before Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Capitals and Lightning was set to begin. “It’s a maintenance day.”
On Monday, Walton, who is in his seventh season with the Capitals, provided the high-decibel soundtrack to one of the biggest goals in franchise history, Evgeny Kuznetsov’s overtime winner against the archrival Penguins to clinch Washington’s first trip to the conference finals in 20 years. Walton’s call will be replayed and remembered for years to come:
Poke-check away and now the counter, here come the Caps. Kuznetsov gets loose, Evgeny coming down the middle, a shot and it comes over — he scores! He scores! Evgeny Kuznetsov wins it for Washington! It’s off to the third round! The demons have been exorcised! Good morning, good afternoon, and good night, Pittsburgh! We’re going to Tampa Bay! The Capitals have done it!
That pause before Walton shouted “he scores” for the first time was only a split-second, but Walton said it felt like longer. From his vantage point in the press box high above the ice at Pittsburgh’s PPG Paints Arena, it wasn’t immediately apparent that Kuznetsov had put the puck between Matt Murray’s pads. It took a second to realize on TV, too.
“Kuzy’s so good at stickhandling that you’re never quite sure where the puck is, and I think even on [NBC Sports Network play-by-play man] Mike Emrick’s call, it was the same thing,” Walton said. “There was that briefest of hesitation, from his own teammates even. You need the reaction and the affirmation from the celebration of the guys to know for absolute certain.”
Capitals radio analyst Ken Sabourin realized the puck had crossed the goal line just before Walton did and started pounding on his partner’s left shoulder.
“Then we knew,” Walton said with a laugh. “There’s a million things we look at. You can watch sometimes in the building the deflation of the crowd. There was no red light right away, either, for us to see. There was an extra half-a-beat in there, just to make sure that that’s what transpired. It did, and the rest of it was just trying to capture the moment as best we could.”
Sabourin described the goal and the scene in Pittsburgh for the next 20 seconds. Then Walton continued:
Kenny, they slayed the Penguins. All of the heartache. All of the demons. The two-time defending champions are going home, and the Capitals are moving on for the first time in 20 years to the Eastern Conference finals! Oh, baby, what a moment here in Pittsburgh!
“I’ve never been one to plan that kind of stuff,” Walton said Wednesday, when asked about his call. “The part for me where I had a little bit more time was after the original call, Kenny talked for a moment, and then I had a little bit of a reset. It wasn’t scripted, but I had a few moments to kind of absorb what I had seen. Honestly, I was inspired by seeing Alex Ovechkin on our monitor, in real time. The arms stretched out, the look to the ceiling. You could see him exhale. He wanted it so bad. We all did. Anybody that’s lived in this city, that’s been around this team, wanted to see that, but he embodied it. In that moment, I was inspired by him. I know how much he wanted it, how much he’s the flak jacket when things go wrong around here, and heaven knows they have. I was so happy for him. I was so happy for Barry Trotz, and we just wanted to capture it the best we could.”
Walton said Kuznetsov’s game-winner on Monday easily surpasses Joel Ward’s overtime winner against the Bruins in Game 7 of the first round of the 2012 playoffs as his most memorable call from his seven seasons with the Capitals.
“The Caps were playing the defending champs like they were here,” Walton said of Ward’s goal. “I think just given the history with Pittsburgh, and the fact that it was in Pittsburgh, and the fact that they were the two-time defending champs, I don’t think anything in my time here compares to [Monday’s call].”
Walton would be just fine if he doesn’t get to call another overtime winner against the Lightning, or, should Washington advance, in the Stanley Cup finals.
“Overtime goals are good for the radio business — we don’t mind those at all — but, if I could draw it up perfectly in the Stanley Cup, I wouldn’t want an overtime winner. I’d want to be up 5-1, and I’d want to be able to reflect on the moment, what it means to people, to be able to build to what looks like an inevitable conclusion,” he said. “I’m hoping that’s what next. I don’t think we need another overtime winner. I think it’s great that we had one, I think it was perfect that that’s what happened. I’m not even talking from a Capitals standpoint, as much as I am from a city of Washington, D.C., standpoint — from a Maryland, D.C., Virginia standpoint. I would love to be able to have a Game 6 where the Caps are up … to be able to just paint the big picture after so much time that they didn’t get it done. I’ll take it however it comes, but if I could draw it up, I wouldn’t want the drama, I’d want the reflection.”
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