A group of reporters huddled around a television in the press room at Verizon Center on Sunday night after the Capitals had lost Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Stanley Cup Playoffs semifinals 3-2 to the Tampa Bay Lightning in overtime. Deadlines momentarily forgotten, the drama of the night swirled up in wonder and emotion that has nothing to do with hockey.
Osama Bin Laden Is Dead.
Normally this would be the spot where I lay on the analytics. The logic of how the Caps have let two games at Verizon Center slip away after dominating much of the play only to come up short handed and staring the end of their season in the face. But, hockey is a game played by grown men. In the grand scheme of things, it is almost a trivial pursuit.
At the same time, it is anything but.
Sports are ingrained into our society. Like politics and taxes, sex and money. Sports embody our emotions, our aggressions and passions, hopes and fears. A NHL playoff game by itself is a relatively meaningless event.
Yet, tell me, Capitals fans, that when your team was down with a minute left in the game, the goalie pulled, empty net behind your boys, that you did not jump and shout, hug a loved one or just the nearest person to you when Alex Ovechkin screamed towards the goal from the right circle to bury the puck in the net, tying the game and sending it to overtime.
Then, tell me that your heart did not sink ever so slightly when the Caps got caught in an awkward shift change, Lightning defenseman Randy Jones made a long outlet (borderline illegal) pass that hit Teddy Purcell on the rush who sent a centering pass to Vinny Lecavalier that he buried behind Washington goaltender Michal Neuvirth.
Literally speaking, it did. The game was over. The ever moving game clock, the numbers that move down a tick at a time and while they do that your team has a chance, had stopped.
And the Caps were down two games to none.
If you were at Verizon Center, you were shocked. You may have put your arm around your significant other, shook your head towards the ice and trekked up the concrete stairs. Back to your car. Back to your life. Back to bills and crying children, back to six packs of beer and McDonalds French fries.
Did you not grow with the experience? Did, perhaps, you bond with a fellow compatriot? Did you enjoy the collective mindset of your brethren, emotions swelling and deflating as if Verizon Center were one living organism in and of itself?
“It’s a tough loss, but give them credit. They capitalized on their opportunities and on our mistakes,” Caps forward Brooks Laich said. “Down 2-0, but we’ve been in this position before and we’ve come back … we’re going to regroup and come back on Tuesday.”
Washington dominated the Lightning on Sunday. They outshot them 37-23, came out gates hot and played with emotion that was lacking on Friday. But, they fell behind. Lecavalier scored a goal at the end of the first period after the Caps had kept their foot on the gas all through the opening frame. It was a power play strike and the best efforts of the Caps went unrewarded.
“It’s playoff hockey and [DeWayne] Roloson played real well and the team played pretty well in front of him. We’ve got to hand it to their goaltending tonight,” Jason Arnott said. “He played extremely well…It’s a long series. We’re not out of it yet. We’ve got to stay positive and keep moving forward.”
Roloson beat the Caps on Sunday. Just like he did twice during the regular season when he shut the Caps down in consecutive games, he just stonewalled the Caps attack. Shots poured in, shots got cleared out or covered. Just when it seemed like the Caps could break the spell, the Lightning would come back and score on the other end.
And desperation sets in.
“I thought we had the momentum, quite frankly, for about 45 minutes of that game. I felt very comfortable going into overtime,“ Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said.
So it went. The range of human emotion played out in a game on ice by grown men wearing costumes. The pulse of a city tied to a building of red-clad bodies. Sports bind us, make us who we are. It is a reminder that we are Americans and there are things in the life that do matter.
Even if in the grander scheme of things it does not appear to mean anything.