Memories of Stanley Cup Playoffs Past: Andy

[Ed. Note: With overtime thrillers and unlikely heroes, the Washington Capitals first playoff series of the 2010-11 NHL Stanley Cup finals is surely one to remember. While we wait to find out the what lies ahead for the Caps, we here at Rock the Red took time to look back at some of our other favorite playoff moments, of series recent and past. Read Kevin’s and Krafty’s and feel free to share your own in our comments section.]

April 19, 2000

Two years removed from their Stanley Cup Final run, the Caps had made it back to the playoffs only to fall apart in the first round.  The Southeast Division Champion Capitals had surged into the postseason with the #2 seed and a defensive juggernaut to find out that not only would they be playing the cursed Pittsburgh Penguins, but also scheduling conflicts at the Igloo took home ice away from the Caps, making the normally 2-2-1-1-1 series a 1-2-2-1-1.  By the time Game 4 rolled arond, the Caps were down 3-0 in the series and my friend gave his section 107 tickets to me for free.  Being a teenager with high hopes for the Caps, I jumped at the chance to attend my first ever Caps playoff game with my dad and just maybe see the Caps eke out a win.

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Photo By Rich Lipski, The Washington Post

I got to the game with my heart in my throat and more than a little indignant frustration about the unfairness of it all.  Once the game started, the Caps started playing like the team I remembered from the regular season.  It didn’t take long before the puck ended up on the stick of the Caps’ most dangerous player, Peter Bondra, who streaked down the ice on a breakaway.  Pens goalie Ron Tugnutt stopped the breakaway, but speedy Slovakian winger Richard Zednik followed up on the rebound and knocked the puck in!  The place went crazy, the horn sounded, the fans erupted. 

What was the ref doing going to the scorers table?  “The play is under review.”  No!  The arena was quietened, waiting for the call. 

The ref came back and ruled Z-man had kicked it in!  The Caps fans sat down again, once again seething with resentment toward the referees, different referees than the ones that had called a penalty in game 2 overtime that cost the Caps the game, but we didn’t care.  They had just screwed us again.

The Caps had 3 powerplays in the first 10 minutes as they pressed and the Penguins got sloppy, but they couldn’t cash in, not even on the long 5-on-3.  It actually took the Penguins getting the powerplay for the Caps to get on the board, as rookie center Jeff Halpern tossed the puck to the front of the Pens cage for Steve Konowalchuk to bang home.  This time the MCI Center erupted for real, unleashing much of our pent-up frustration.  Maybe, just maybe, it would be possible.

But before we could even sit down, a former Cap struck on the same powerplay.  Just 21 seconds later, John Slaney ripped a slapshot past All-Star goalie Olaf Kolzig, and the game was tied, and all those emotions crept back in.  Just when we though we were heading to intermission tied, public enemy #1 struck.  Jaromir Jagr gave the sloppy and undisciplined Penguins a 2-1 lead and left the entire arena flabbergasted.  The Caps had just thrown the kitchen sink at the Penguins and had gotten nowhere.  This is when I stood up and cheered and waved the Caps flag I had brought with me, as if to say “Come on, Caps!  Come on, fans!  It’s not over!”

Something had to have happened between periods, because the Caps got back to their stifling defensive game and tied the game.  Burly winger Chris Simon banged in a rebound with 6 minutes to go in the period, and once again the Caps were back in it.  Simon, who led the Caps in goals, had just made up for his suspension earlier in the series which took him out a Game 3 loss. 

A tense game followed, as all of us were biting our nails, cheering nervously, or feigning ambivalence in an attempt to steel ourselves from what would surely be another disappointing defeat.  Then, midway through the third period, the miracle we had been waiting for happened:  the Caps scored.  Seldom-used rookie Trent Whitfield banged in a Joe Sacco pass and the Caps were back on top.  The place erupted.  There would be a Game 5 after all! 

What was the ref doing going to the scorers table?  “The play is under review.”  No!  The arena was quietened, waiting for the call.

The ref came back and ruled that Joe Sacco had played the puck with a high stick.  The Caps fans sat down again, once again seething with resentment toward the referees, different referees than the ones that had called 8 powerplays for the Penguins in Game 1, but we didn’t care.  They had just screwed us again. 

While most of the arena sat back down, I waved my flag again.  It wasn’t over, we could still win this.

The Caps kept buzzing around the cage, eventually drawing the ire of the Pens goalie, who slashed Richard Zednik.  The Caps had been struggling to score goals all series, and nowhere was it more apparent than the powerplay.  But it had to work this time.

It happened suddenly, Adam Oates passed to Ken Klee, Klee shot it from the point, and Jeff Halpern banged in the rebound.  For the fifth time, the arena exploded, but we had all been hurt too many times before not to look for the referees.  Any waving arms?  Any orange armbands by the scorers table?  No!  The Caps score!  Now we just have to hold on for the last few minutes!

Photo By John McDonnell, The Washington Post

The time kept ticking down, and finally the Caps were frustrating the Penguins like they had been frustrating us all series.  Olie Kolzig came up with some big saves in the final few minutes, like he was supposed to.  After all, he won the Vezina Trophy for his regular season, but we only knew he was a finalist at the time.  The Caps’ tight-checking system finally had a lead to work with and could clamp down. 

When the final horn sounded, the place was jubilant.  Our Caps had fought through everything, all the unfairness, and won anyway.  Even though we knew this was most likely only a temporary reprieve, we could all say, just for one night, that we had stuck it to the Penguins.  We’ll see you on Friday for Game 5.