So did you see the big game on NBC yesterday?
You heard me right.
Yesterday’s big game wasn’t played in Miami, aired on CBS, filled with cheesy, stupid commercials. It was right here in DC, in the heart of snowmageddon. It was the Pittsburgh Penguins against the Washington Capitals. And yesterday, that game lived up to every fan’s dream, regardless which side of center ice they were on.
Seriously. Four times a year these two rivals meet – and I wouldn’t be presumptuous at all to claim that both the Pens and the Caps see it as an archrivalry. It’s probably one of the most intense regular-season contest series in all of hockey, and yesterday was no exception. (To drive home the point – I climbed up on my roof to clear it of snow just so my DirecTV dish could receive the game. No AM radio for me!)
By now, everyone here knows of the result. A 5-4 OT win for the Caps, borne on the shoulders of Ovechkin’s hat trick and Mike Knuble’s OT poke from the crease. It was yet another third period rally by the Caps on their way to an impressive 14 game win streak, the third-best in NHL history.
There were a lot of storylines going into this game yesterday. The blizzard conditions and the massive dig-out that hampered even Caps owner Ted Leonsis; the exhausting travel period for the Penguins from Saturday’s game in Montreal; the concern that fans might endanger themselves going into town for this clash of hockey titans; the ever-present individual rivalries of both team captains. But when you got right down to it, it’s a heated and simmering rivalry between two teams that has continued to boil for over a decade and every game between them is going to be epic.
From start to finish, this game felt not like a regular season game, but a playoff one. The intensity from the players, coaches, and even fans was beyond a normal game. The Penguins came in reeling from a nasty loss to Montreal the night before and needing to prove themselves worthy of their Stanley Cup Champion title; the Caps were ready to prove themselves heirs to that title as well as maintain their impressive streak. While the outcome of the game didn’t result in the handing off of the Cup, it has set the tone for the last two games between them and – if everything falls into place in the postseason – an epic playoff series to come.
Proof? Look at the numbers. Over 70 minutes in penalties, 4 game misconducts, 9 goals – 5 of which by the first and second place goal scorers in the league (Ovechkin leads with 42, Sidney Crosby with 39), 69 shots on goal (35 by Pittsburgh), 49 hits (32 by the Caps), 11 consecutive home wins for the Caps (franchise record), and Caps goalie Jose Theodore’s own personal best of a 10 game winning streak.
Fact is, the Capitals are DC’s best sports franchise now, bar none. Yesterday’s game didn’t prove that – it only substantiated it. They don’t have to prove anything to anyone, not any more.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a diehard Penguins fan. Hard to break 24 years of conditioning, after all. But the Capitals are probably the one rivalry I respect and look forward to every year in hockey now, because frankly, these are two of the best teams on ice these days. And every time they play it’s like Super Bowl Sunday around here. GM George McPhee and Coach Bruce Boudreau have really impressed me with the building and managing of this team; every night they play is entertaining and a showcase of skill and teamwork, you can’t help but walk away rooting for them – even if only a little. Only Flyers fans could be so calloused and cold – but then again, they’re Flyers fans. (Just kidding! Okay, maybe.)
Enjoy the winning feeling, Caps fans. With this team and coaching staff, you’ll get to enjoy it for a long time coming. And I’ve no doubt that soon enough, Lord Stanley’s Cup will make a year-long stopover in the nation’s capital. And I’ll be in line with the rest of you to enjoy it.