So look. What even is going on with the Capitals?
My dudes: I do not know. I do not get it. It is, like, a weird floating sensation, watching these last few games. There isn’t a particular lot of stress, really. Neither is there all that much late-game uncertainty. During NHL playoff games, my coldly impartial heart races like a metronome on greenies. My heart during the last five minutes Sunday night was in, like, half-asleep-on-the-couch-covered-with-roasted-jalapeno-pita-chip-dust-while-watching-Guy’s-Grocery-Games mode. Composting bins race faster than my heart. I’ve been more stressed out trying to decide which flavor of yogurt to buy. It was Caps hockey, and it was chill.
“They found a way to do everything right,” said NBC Sports analyst Keith Jones.
“The best way to put it is it’s not even close at even strength,” said NBC Sports analyst Eddie Olczyk.
And — get this — the team that has been better by a zillion hectares keeps winning. These hockey games. By a lot.
And … that team is the Washington Capitals?
It’s wild, man.
So this is, like, their year? This year is different?
I mean, of course I’ve wondered this, and you’ve wondered this, and every fan has wondered this, even if they’ve tried not to, because it sure feels like the Caps are doing things that they’d be doing if they were doing a thing. Winning two games in Columbus with their season on life support. Dominating Pittsburgh in a deciding road game with a roster made up of rookies and possibly extras from the NBCSN studio crew. Bouncing back from a deficit caused by two questionable calls Sunday night to strangle the Lightning into submission — as sizable road underdogs, against the best team in the East. Stomping the life out of that beaten opponent in the third period, to the point that you could hear every bite of cotton candy in that empty arena as the Caps seemed actually to accelerate with the lead. What’s the opposite of turtling? De-turtling? Un-turtling? Hare-ing?
The thing is, this all suggests that there was something fundamentally wrong last year or the year before or any of those other seasons, and I’m still not sure I actually believe that. Some of those teams were seriously dang good. They just were. Was the problem really that last year’s team dominated too much in the regular season? Or that it didn’t have Alex Chiasson? Or that Nicklas Backstrom was healthy? Or that Tom Wilson wasn’t suspended? Was the problem that they hadn’t benched their goalie? Or that they had freaking Mr. Game 7 in the dressing room? That doesn’t exactly make sense.
But … sometimes sports don’t make sense, unless you’re willing to gently caress silly narratives that you probably know better than to caress. Like: Belief is a powerful thing. A team can get hot — at the right time. Once a forever hurdle falls, the next hurdle might not look so demanding. All that stuff you don’t actually believe until it’s 2-2 and then 3-2 and then 4-2 and then 5-2 and then 6-2 as the heavens rain roasted jalapeño pita chip dust.
Maybe you’re right, nameless writerly device.
And so now it’s all a done deal or … what am I even saying?
Listen fella, I keep bouncing back and forth on the same trampoline that’s boinging your mind right now. We’ve all been. You know the drill. Don’t think about it but something’s happening, I can’t think about it but what if it’s happening, it’s a jinx why are you typing this I can’t stop thinking about it stop it I can’t but you should but I can’t.
“What the bleep is going on?” Barry Svrluga asked in Monday’s paper, and it’s hard to imagine the Caps fan who hasn’t thought that once or twice or 832 times this month. Turns out you don’t hear a lot about puck luck when you take four-goal leads in consecutive road games.
It’s nuts to get too overconfident in a sport like this, right? But if you don’t start to really lean into this thing and enjoy it, maybe you’ll miss out on some of the bliss. There’s no reason for this above-average regular season team to have suddenly turned dominant in May, right? But maybe this route — the goalie switcheroo, the Columbus comeback, the significant win over Pittsburgh — really has them feeling like they can’t lose. No one thought this was going to be the season, right? But maybe that’s the way it always had to be. Which brings us back to the first point: If you keep waiting for that other shoe to drop, maybe you’ll be late sprinting out the door to scream your head off.
And that would be a shame?
Well … who knows? I have no idea what to think or feel or write, so I sure can’t tell you what to do. This all feels rattlingly unfamiliar, and disorienting, and I don’t know how to process it. Washington sports produced some really, really good teams over the past few years, and they found really, really weird ways to lose in the playoffs, and some of us started to expect it. I did, anyhow. Washington sports didn’t produce many nights like Sunday. And maybe if you see enough things you haven’t seen, your expectations … change?
Heavens that’s weird.
You might be jinxing this.
So why are you writing this?
Because Sunday night might have been the most staggering, calmly dominating and comprehensively impressive playoff win — considering the massive, perhaps historical stakes — I can remember from a D.C. pro team this century. That they’re playing this well is not a dream. That doesn’t mean it will continue. Maybe they’ll lose four straight and I will have to eat my computer screen. But for some of us, at least, this was the night the last bit of skepticism was converted into something approaching … is that … belief?
“This is not the Washington Capitals of past years,” Mike Milbury said, which we all had sort of at least half-thought, even if none of it makes much sense.
Yeah. Super Weird.
Read more Caps coverage:
Game summary: Capitals 6, Lightning 2