[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 here and feel free to share your own in our comments section.]
April 11, 2008
As I slid out of my office early on the day of the Washington Capitals’ first playoff game since 2003, I thought back over the many happenings of the 2007-08 NHL season in DC. Starting the season with the worst record in the league at 6-14-1, inking Ovechkin to his 13-year contract (and his league leading 65 goals), Hershey Bears coach Bruce Boudreau taking the helm, seeing George McPhee bring in Sergei Fedorov and Cristobal Huet at the trade deadline, a Southeast Division title – everything that somehow miraculously allowed the Caps to string together 12 wins in 13 games, including 8 straight, to close out the regular season and earn the number three seed in the playoffs.
The electricity surrounding the team came to a head that Friday night, when the Capitals were to take the ice against the visiting Philadelphia Flyers. As I walked to my seats in the nosebleeds, I took note of the number of red-clad fans young and old, some even mowhawked, anxious for the game to start. I also noticed how little support the Flyers had in the stands, a sight I was unaccustomed to from years of attending games often where the visitors had the upper hand.
When the puck dropped on the series, the game took off at a torrid pace with the building as loud as an AC/DC concert- yet the fans somehow found another level of volume when Mike Knuble was whistled for slashing Nicklas Backstrom, allowing Washington an early chance with the man advantage. Then, an unlikely hero emerged: Donald Brashear, who had spent several seasons with the Broadstreet Bullies, settled a bouncing rebound at the side of the net and put it past Martin Biron for the first goal of the game. The contest continued with Alex Ovechkin, Matt Bradley and Matt Cooke hitting everything that moved, hard fought contests in the corners- but all hope seemed lost as the Flyers entered the second intermission up 4-2 on a pair of late period tallies.
Some how, some way I knew the Capitals would come back to win – but how? Had they burned themselves out down the stretch just trying to reach NHL’s second season? Did the nervousness get the best of the younger players? After having the second fewest wins when trailing after two periods, was this a feat they were even built to accomplish? They managed to keep the Great Eight without a shot so far – where would the offense come from? And could Huet even keep the Caps close enough to have a shot at a comeback?
A little under two minutes into the third period, Mike Green snuck in undetected to make good on a brilliant cross ice feed from Alexander Semin to Fedorov.
Four minutes later, Green struck again on a blast from the point during a Power Play moments after Patrick Thoresen was incapacitated blocking a shot with his groin.
*Tie game, the Caps can do this*
And then it happened. Ovechkin was deep in Philadelphia’s zone when a simple poke check lifted Lasse Kukkonen’s stick, prying the puck free. Ovie swooped in, stole the puck, and lifted it over Biron’s shoulder for his first career postseason tally. The Verizon Center exploded as Ovechkin sprinted to the glass and slammed his body against it. A standing ovation continued as #8 high stepped along the boards to the other end of the ice to high-five Huet. The Cinderella Capitals had pulled ahead!
Washington went on to win the game, but not before Ovechkin destroyed Mike Richards one last time – almost as if he was not done celebrating his GWG. As the crowd flooded the DC streets, chants of “Let’s go Caps!” were heard loudly from all over. High fives to strangers were common on route to the bars where people joyously cheers’d their beverages of choice. That is when Washington took its next steps in becoming a hockey town.