Thursday, April 29, 2010

Most Painful Sports Moments of the Last Year

Life as a DC sports fan continues to be difficult as our best hope this season, the Washington Capitals, are eliminated from the playoffs in historic fashion, being the only 1 seed to ever lose to an 8 seed after leading the series 3-1. After the Caps got the third win, Halak took over the series for Montreal. It's unfortunate, but the Caps played their hearts out, which is more than what they could say after being eliminated last spring.

That got me to thinking about which loses this passed year were most painful to me, and I have create a top 5 list:

5) Redskins Lose to the Rams
This was worse than when they lost to the Lions. This was at home, in a game where no touchdowns were scored. The Redskins lost 9-6. They were booed at halftime and they were booed off the field at the end of the game. That was when everyone realized just how bad this team really was, and that was hard to take. It was more of a feeling of embarrassment than any real pain, but nonetheless it was a difficult one to swallow.

4) Maryland/Georgetown losses from March Madness
These losses were gut wrenching for different reasons. Maryland was in a close game. They battled back form being down by 12 in the final minutes of the second half. Vasquez put the team on his back and scored to take the lead with only a few seconds remaining. Only to be beaten by a buzzer beater. What an end to the Vasquez era for the Terps.

Gerogetown had high expectations. They had had an up and down season, losing to lowly opponents while beating teams like eventual champion Duke. When our pro basketball team was letting us down in more ways than one, we turned to Georgetown for solace. They decided not to show up for their first round game and were knocked out of the tournament by the 14 seed. When a team doesn't come out to play for a game that important, it hurts. A lot.

3) Tonight's Game 7 Caps Loss
This is really only on the list because of expectations. This team was so good. They dominated the entire league all season long. They seemed unbeatable. But Montreal was a bad matchup for them, as they had proven during their regular season meetings. They also ran into any team's worst playoff nightmare: a hot goalie. Jaroslav Halak won that series for the Canadiens, and there is no one who will dispute that. The Caps thoroughly out played the Habs the last 8 periods of the series, but it didn't matter. Halak was on fire. It is such a disappointment because everyone was jumping to Cup aspirations, but it hurts a little less because the Caps laid it all out there. Their PP was terrible, but they worked hard and you know they didn't hold anything back. As a team, they deserved it more, but Halak deserved in more than the entire Caps team. Knowing the team will be a contender for the next 5-10 years also helps numb the pain.

4) Gold Medal Loss to Canada
This is second by only the slimmest of margins. This underdog team represented the American Way: they were tough, they were gritty, and no one expected them to do well. They were too young, too inexperienced to make any noise in the tournament, but then they beat the All Mighty Canada 5-3. Miller was outstanding. The U.S went into the gold medal game undefeated, while Canada had a shootout win over the Swiss to blemish their record. When it all seemed to be over, Canada up 2-1 in the dying seconds of the game, Zach Parise put home a Patrick Kane rebound to tie it up and send it into overtime. Only to have Canada win it. And to have Sidney Crosby score the winning goal. Ouch. That one really stung. It just had to be him, who had actually had a mediocre at best tournament until that point. It had to be Canada. The bright spot was we got to see all of the young American talent, and with the US winning the U17, U18, and U20 World Championships, future Olympics look bright for the United States.

1) Game 7 Loss to Pittsburgh
Was there really any doubt? I was excited all day for the game. I couldn't concentrate on anything. I was so excited to see an outstanding matchup, maybe even an overtime. I, and 18,000 of my closest friends, were thoroughly disappointed. This one actually pained me. The Caps decided to take the night off. Against their biggest rival. In game 7. There was a feeling that whoever won this series could go on to win the Cup, and that eventually did happen. Getting beaten so badly in a game like that stays with you for a while. The best part of the night was with three minutes left, the crowd began to stand up and cheer. The team was losing 6-2. They were effectively eliminated. And the fans spent three minutes applauding a fantastic season. When the game was over, after the handshakes, Ovechkin and the team raised their sticks in salute to their fans. I didn't want to leave. I literally had to be dragged out of Verizon Center. I wish we had seen more of that tonight.

Anyway, these are now all behind us. And hey! The Nats are two games about .500! We might just get another playoff team this year after all.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Humbling Loss

As much as it pains me to say it, this 2-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens to force a Game 6 is probably one of the best things that could happen to these playoff Caps. They got a taste of their own medicine tonight, and were reminded that they have to play hard for a full 60 minutes. Tonight, they were the better team for two periods. And they lost because of the first ten minutes. This is the same position the Habs were for games 2 and 4. The only 60 minute effort the Caps have put in this series was in game 3, and I suspect we'll see another one in game 6.

They needed to be reminded that in the playoffs, you can't win on talent alone. They got that message after 20 minutes, but by then it was too late. Another thing that was important about this game was that it seemed to force Ovechkin into the leadership role regarding Semin. The two are close friends, and we all know it can be hard to tell your friend when they are doing something wrong. However, after last night's loss, Ovechkin pulled Semin aside. We don't know what he said of course, but in his post-game interview he called out both Semin and Tomas Fleischmann for not converting on opportunities. Bruce Boudreau also called out his scorers. This loss seems to have already resonated with this team.

There are plenty of reasons to think that the Habs will win game 6: momentum, home ice advantage, etc. However, the best complete game this team has played was in Bell Centre, and they will do it again. The Caps sometimes try to be too cute at home and who off. On the road, they bear down on defense because they know they have to. They dig pucks out of the corners because they know they have to. And Monday night, they will win because they know they have to in order to quiet critics who say they can't close a series. This team, as it always does, will bounce back. It would just be nice if the Flyers weren't resting as home while the Caps were doing it.

Plus, if there was any question that hockey players are the toughest athletes, that debate is over. Eric Belanger pulled out his own tooth on the bench after being hit with a high stick. He then went right back onto the ice. This morning, he said he lost 8 teeth from the high stick. Ouch.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

John Carlson Love

My love for John Carlson runs deep. It has ever since his gold-medal winning goal for team USA against team Canada in the World Junior Championships in January. I liked him before that, but that tournament is what turned it into pure love. Last night, Captain America gave the country another reason to love him, and again, it came against Canada. With 1:21 left in the game, the Capitals had orchestrated an improbable, (impossible for most teams) comeback against the Canadiens. They had been down 2-0 and 4-1 before surging in the third period to tie the game at 4. With about 5 minutes left, the Canadiens scored on a two-on-one to re-take the lead at 5-4. It was deflating, but if anyone thought that the game was over, they don't know these Capitals. With 1:21 remaining in the game on a delayed penalty call against the Canadiens for slashing, Nick Backstrom, having already scored two goals of his own, left a perfect drop pass for not-even-technically-rookie John Carlson, who ripped a shot passed Halak to tie the game at 5. Backstrom went on to complete his hat trick in overtime and the Caps took game 2 6-5.

Anyone watching last night's game knows how good Carlson really is. He is so composed at the ripe age of 20. Having not played the minimum games required to be considered a rookie, he will be in the Calder race next season, and in my opinion, is the early favorite. If they Caps are to win the Cup, they need performances like this from players like Carlson. They need their depth to be strong. They also will need Carlson to be on the ice against every Canadian team they face. John Carlson = Canada Killer.

Gomez's fight with Tom Poti last night was possibly the dumbest thing the midget could have done. First, he tries shoving Ovechkin, cause, you know, Ovi is roughly 2 feet taller than him and weighs about 50 pounds more. So smart. When Poti steps in to tell Gomez that isn't going to fly, he picks a fight with Poti. I repeat: he picks a fight with Poti. Gomez, your team is ahead. The crowd is waiting to jump on something to grab some momentum. And your smaller and weaker than every single Capitals player except maybe Scott Walker or Brendan Morrison, and neither of them are on the ice. He subsequently got his clock cleaned by Poti, who doesn't fight often, and the crowd immediately got back into the game. That energy lifted the Caps to a come-from behind OT victory. It was possibly the stupidest fight since Carcillo decided to fight Max Talbot last spring, changing the momentum of the game and the series in Pittsburgh's favor.

It seemed that the Capitals were able to solve Halak last night, although after allowing six goals, he might not be the goalie they face on Monday. Either way, last night's game was huge. It was a coming out party for Carlson, and it reminded the Caps that they are the better team, and it's time to play like it.

Game on.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Crosby vs Ovechkin

I, personally, am not a fan of this debate. I'm over it. It's been going on the entire five years the players have been in the league together. It forces people to pick a side instead of enjoying watching two of the best players ever light it up night in and night out. Not only that, but the debate it pointless because we will not be able to properly judge them until their careers are over in about 15 years. I also feel you can't compare them against each other because they play different positions and have had different players around them to work with.

That being said, the playoffs have brought the debate back up again, so I feel forced to weigh in. It always begins with one question: "If you were starting a team, which would you pick to build you team around?" And my answer is: Alex Ovechkin. He is more exciting both on and off the ice. His persona is one that can lift a team and a city. He embraces the media instead of shying away from it. He jokes and does goofy things that make him endearing to a fan base, which would sell more tickets. He always seems to truly love and enjoy what he is doing both on the ice and away from the rink. That, to me, makes him more marketable and better to build a franchise around.

Part of the Great Debate is over their off-ice personalities. Ovechkin wins me over here too, mainly because Crosby seems flat-out boring. There's nothing wrong with that, and he's probably more likely to never have a Tiger Woods moment, but it's also not fun. I'm a lover of fun. I guess my personality matches up more with Ovechkin's. I have friends like him. He is the kind of person I like to surround myself with.

Many people think that when people speak negatively about Crosby, they are knocking his talent. That is ridiculous. He is obviously one of the most skilled players in the world. My problem with his game is his attitude. I don't mean as a person, but I obviously don't know him, but on the ice he has a habit of complaining. A lot. And just as you can't deny his skill, you can't deny that part of his game either. That is what tips the balance for me. He dives. He asked people to stop throwing hats on the ice after Ovechkin's hat trick last spring. When he "fights", his teammates hold the other player down while Crosby wails away. He hides behind linesmen. He is a chippy player who pretends he's not, and that annoys me. At least Matt Cooke knows it.

The main argument people provide in favor of Crosby being the better player is that he has the titles. That doesn't mean much to me, because when comparing the two, he has had the better teams. In the Olympics, (where he was a non-factor until his gold-medal winning goal), his team was better and MUCH better coached. Until this year, the Penguins teams have been better than the Capitals teams. In a game as team-oriented as hockey, I don't think you can used titles to say that individual players are better than one another.

Obviously, I prefer Ovechkin. But that is exactly what it is: a preference. Crosby annoys me with his on-ice attitude and over-sized lips, but that doesn't make one better than the other. The real question should be who do you LIKE better, and my answer to that is Ovechkin.

But who is better? That is something we will always be debating, and there will never be a true answer.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Habs Take Series Lead 1-0

Ok, so Game 1 didn't go the way anyone thought it would. And being true to our Caps' fans stereotypes, everyone is freaking out. You mean the Caps DIDN'T sweep every series to the Stanley Cup?! FAILURE!...Seriously though, everyone needs to calm down. This win is actually a good thing, (and being that my dad's a lawyer, yes, I am a natural spinner), and we're lucky it came now. Unfortunately, this bring San Jose Sharks comparasions as regular season successes who turn into playoff failures, but it is way too soon to make that judgment. Plus, Ovechkin is Thornton. Ovi has proved in every playoff series that he shows up for big games. Pens Game 2, anyone?

First of all, this is becoming a trend in this year's playoffs. So far, of 5 series, only one team (Buffalo) has been expected to win and then won. For whatever reason, the top teams have needed a wake-up call this spring, and the Capitals are no different. They were much more ready for playoff hockey this year than they were last year against the Rangers, but they still had to play through games that meant nothing. It's no excuse, but it's also not easy to make such a sudden transition.

It was clear that the Caps were jacked up for this game. They completely dominated the first period with 19 shots on net. The problem was, they didn't have much to show for it as they went into the dressing room tied at 1. They didn't take advantage of opportunities, especially on the power play. They had been able to get away with that toward the end of the season, but you can't in the playoffs. Another big factor was that they hadn't seen Halak all season. You can watch all the tape you want, but until you play a goalie you can't get a feel for him. That is why Semyon Varlamov was so effective in the Rangers series and the beginning of the Pens series last spring, but then faltered in the later games. They hadn't seen him before, and Pens figured him out. Being that Halak has played more regular season games than Varlamov had, this one game should really help the Caps in learning his weaknesses.

The Capitals came out flying, but about mid way through the second period Montreal took over. The Caps were playing their game: fast, controlling the puck, keeping the play in Montreal's zone. Then the forwards decided they didn't need to play defense. The Caps' defensemen, in my opinion, were very good tonight, including Mike Green (sans the late delay of game penalty, of course). They were making plays, keeping shots down and players to the outside. The problem is, the forwards were waiting for the D to get them the puck, and when there are 5 people against 2, the puck is not going to be leaving the zone.

This is why the series are the best of 7. There is still no doubt in my mind that the Caps will come out of this round, possibly still in 5 games. It is a wake-up call, and this team responds really well to those. Tonight, the Habs got the game they wanted out of the Caps. The Caps don't like to lose. They aren't used to it, especially on home ice. And neither are their fans. Expect a storming, determined Caps team to take the ice on Saturday, lead by a captain trying to prove himself. That's a scary thought. The Habs know they've woken a sleeping giant not only in Ovechkin, but the entire team.

Game 1 is in the books. Remember, this is why they play the game, and expect the Caps to be playing more their game on Saturday night.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Why This Spring Will Be Different

Springtime in DC is about to get a shake-up. Sure there are still cherry blossoms, no professional basketball team playing, and a losing baseball team, but there is hope this year that has been lacking in this city for a long time: hope (if not expectation) for a championship. The Caps could very well deliver on this hype, and there are several reasons why this year's playoff run will be different than last year's, and for the better.

1. Experience
This is still a young team, and as clique as it sounds, Aerosmith was right in their song Dream On: "You've got to lose to know how to win." Two years ago, the Caps learned what it took to get to the playoffs. Last year, they learned what it takes to be successful in the playoffs. Those heartbreaking Game 7 loses of 2008 and 2009 to rivals taught this team how to prepare for a long playoff run. This season, we have had a front row seat to what happens when you combine raw talent with experience, and the result is terrifying to the rest of the league.

2. Preparation
This ties into the last section, but this spreads through not only the players, but the entire organization. It started on the trade deadline, when GM George McPhee made four deals to bring players to Washington to add depth. The result was that Bruce Boudreau was forced to scratch 5 healthy skaters every night. Boudreau used this to give players a rotation of rest, which could prove to be invaluable down the stretch when players get banged up. The organization saw what happened last year when players were forced to play through serious injuries, and did what was necessary to ensure it wouldn't happen again. The rest also allowed players to heal up before the playoffs, so players are not entering the second season already injured. Mike Green has already said that this is the best he's ever felt before the playoffs.

3. Veteran Leadership
Something that was missing last season was gritty, veteran leadership. With all do respect to Fedorov, Kozlov, and Brashear, they are no Mike Knuble, Brendan Morrison, or Scott Walker when it comes to being a gritty veteran. It was extremely helpful to have Fedorov and Kozlov there to help bring along Ovechkin, and especially Semin. But they weren't gritty players. They were traditional Russian hockey: smooth, style, and sparkle. Brashear added grit, but it became clear throughout the playoffs that the Caps needed more. With Knuble on board (and with a Cup ring on his finger), players have been reflecting his style of play in terms of going to the net. He has helped incredibly with the development of Brooks Laich and Eric Fehr. Jason Chimera is another new player with toughness. These players are leaders in the locker room because they have been there, and it makes the players on the ice follow their hard work ethic. If the Capitals don't win the Cup, it won't be because they were "too cute." Unless, of course, the Ovechkin-Backstrom-Semin line is reunited.

4. Momentum
Entering last season's playoffs, the Capitals played down to their non-playoff competition with their seed already locked up. And they lost. The Caps carried a five game winning streak into the last game of the season, and lost the final game in the shootout. Their competition was also much tougher this year. The team had a 14-game winning streak this season as well. The Capitals have been fine-tuning their play for the last month or so, and that means they shouldn't need two games to wake up like they did against the Rangers last year.

5. Desire
This hunger will have the most impact this postseason. Ovechkin and Semin were rudely shoved out of the Olympic tournament by rival Canada. That same team gave Mike Green his third high-profile snub of the year when we wasn't selected for Vancouver. The entire team got watch the rival Pittsburgh Penguins lift the Cup last June after pushing them to 7 games. No doubt there was a feeling in the room that had the Caps won that game, the Cup could have been there's. And then there is Ovechkin and Crosby. I am just as sick of this debate as anyone (mainly because we won't know the winner for at least another 15 years), and as much as the two players involved claim it doesn't affect them, that is far from the truth. Both want to be considered the best in the world, and if anyone saw Crosby's last game this season then they saw how badly he wanted "Ovechkin's Trophy." Ovechkin wants to prove himself, and he knows this is his time. There is nothing Ovechkin wants more right now than the Stanley Cup, and anyone who has seen his play knows that when he wants something bad enough, nothing stands in his way.

This is a better team than a year ago. This is a deeper team than a year ago. This is a smarter team than a year ago. As the second season begins, the Caps are poised for their first Stanley Cup, which is something you couldn't say last year. It is far from a guarantee, but the Capitals could bring DC it's first major professional sports championship in 17 years.

Enjoy the ride.

Monday, April 12, 2010

How I Became a Caps Fan

A little while ago, Scarlet Caps had a writing contest on "How I Became a Caps Fan." I missed this, obviously, but it got me thinking and I decided to post my journey to Caps fandom.

Unlike most others who entered the contest, I never really "discovered" hockey. There was no turning point, no one event that cemented my fandom forever. I simply was. I have no memories of a time when hockey wasn't a part of my life. My dad always used to take my brother and I to Caps games when we were little. We were two little ADHD balls of energy and both loved action. There are few places you can take kids like that in D.C. at an affordable price, but with the futility of the franchise in the mid-90s, tickets to hockey games were cheap and easy to come by. We loved the pace and the atmosphere.

It began more regularly when I was about six and my brother was nine, when we were both old enough to take out in public without being superbly embarrassed or obnoxious. That also just happened to be the year that the Capitals made their magical run to the Stanley Cup Finals on the back of Olaf Kolzig. I remember the days of the eagle uniforms fondly, when you were never crowded and always made friends with the people around you, because it was mostly the same people going to all of the game. I myself got a Blue Joe Juneau jersey for Christmas, while my brother got a blank Black Third jersey.

I was not a crazy fan, being way to antsy as a kid to really invest the time needed. But I knew who the players were. I loved Jeff Halpern because he was from my town in suburban Maryland and played hockey for the local high school. When I began playing for the Montgomery Youth Hockey Association Blue Devils (CBHL Champs 04 baby!) I wore number 12 in honor of my favorite player, Peter Bondra. I would compare myself to the players on the ice: when I played defense, I felt like Sergei Gonchar; later, when I moved up to center, I likened myself to Adam Oats. In middle school, I began to completely immerse myself in hockey during the season. 04-05 was the longest 8 months of my life, especially considering my team had just picked some kid named Alex Ovechkin 1st overall in the draft and he was supposed to turn the whole franchise around or something...wonder if it worked? :)

I have carried my fandom throughout my entire life, and I never see myself stopping. It is a part of me, a part of my identity. In school, I was either known as the girl who played ice hockey, or the redhead. I have grown with this franchise through numerous rough years, an ownership change, a building change, and a jersey change. I used to have to root for the Capitals and then pick another team to cheer for that actually had a chance at the Stanley Cup. Not anymore. It makes it all the more special to see how this city has accepted hockey and put it's full support behind the Caps. This is now a hockey town in addition to a football town, and I am proud to be one of the original diehards.

This team has my undying loyalty, as it has for my entire life. And it always will.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Second Season

The Washington Capitals ended their 2009-2010 regular season today with a 4-3 shootout loss to the Boston Bruins today. While I wasn't able to watch the finale of the most spectacular regular season in franchise history (the PT department's PowderPuff tournament was calling, and since we won I didn't get back until 2:30), I thought I would take a moment to reflect on the season that was.

In the season's beginning, this team had high expectations from the media, fans, and themselves. Their training camp t-shirts had a picture of the Cup on the back and said, "It's our year." Their had been a lot of praise surrounding the signings of Mike Knuble and Brenden Morrison. I didn't know quite how this team would respond to their rude escort out of the playoffs last year to the team's biggest playoff foe in history, and I know I wasn't the only won who worried for the worst. This franchise has disappointed me before with promise, only to collapse on itself. I had to be sure the Caps were for real, and not merely over-achieving last season as the team did in 1998. I was proven wrong almost right out of the gate. This team was in control from the start of the season. There were some consistency issues and bad habits, but the core and potential was there for a historic year. Seeing signs of what had been their demise against the Penguins last May, I was cautiously optimistic for a deep playoff run.

Then Chris Clark was traded to Columbus, and Alex Ovechkin was named the new team captain. That is when things started to get interesting. The Caps won their first three games under Ovi before losing 7-4 to Tampa. And that was the game this team needed to come together. After Ovi and Steve Downie had a very physical game against each other all night, they were both sent to the penalty box for matching roughing minors. Immediately upon leaving the box, Downie challenged Ovechkin. And Ovechkin agreed. Ovi and Downie took off their helmets and gloves and dropped their sticks while I (like many Caps fans) grew excited to get to see Ovi's fighting skills. Suddenly, out of no where, Matt Bradley came flying in and defended his captain, pummeling Downie into the ice. That was when this team united under Ovechkin's leadership, and it all took off from there. The next night, the Caps came back after being down 4-1 against the Panthers to win 5-4 in a shootout, and they didn't lose for thirteen more games.

After completing the third-longest winning streak in league history, the Capitals didn't let up. They finished 2010 losing only 4 games in regulation, with only 15 regulation losses on the season and only 5 at home. They locked up the Eastern Conference only couple of days after any other team clinched even a playoff spot. They clinched the Presidents' Trophy with a week remaining in the season. In the second half of the season, the Capitals have dominated the league like no other team since the Oilers in the 80s.

Now it is time to leave all of that behind and look to the "Second Season," meaning the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It is the only goal left for the statistically best team in the league. As we all know, however, the Stanley Cup isn't won on paper. 16 wins. That is all that stands between the Capitals and their first ever Stanley Cup. Their first-round opponent is still to be determined: If the Flyers win this afternoon, then the Caps will meet the Canadiens first. If the Rangers win, then we will have a rematch of last year's first round series. Ovechkin is currently tied with Steven Stamkos for the league lead in goals, but both Stamkos and Sidney Crosby (who is behind them with 49 goals) play later tonight. Ovechkin has already lost the Art Ross trophy to Henrik Sedin.

For the first time in nearly two months, this team is about to play in games that matter. It is time for them to dig deep, and I have faith that this year's squad can get it done. But will they?

This will begin to be answered on Thursday and Verizon Center.

Friday, April 9, 2010

My Lone Star in Dallas

Growing up in D.C., I was raised a certain way. Burgundy and Gold runs through my blood, and with that comes the hatred for a certain "Everything's Bigger in Texas" city. Yup, you guessed it...Arlington! Seriously though, I really hate Dallas. I hate the Cowboys. I hate their new stadium. I hate their logo. I hate their colors. I hate just about everything their is to hate about Dallas, T.X. Everything, that is, except Mike Modano. I don't have a burning hatred for the Stars that I have for their football counterpart, but it's Dallas, so I can't root for them. It is going against my DNA. I'm sorry, but that's not changing anytime soon. One good thing they have, though, is Modano.

Mike Modano was drafted first overall in 1988 to the Minnesota North Stars. He moved with the team when they migrated to Dallas. He has played all 1,575 of his career games (both regular season and playoffs) with the same franchise, and is the lone NHLer who was a member of the North Stars before they left Minnesota. He is the true American Hockey Hero (don't worry, John Carlson won't be far behind :) ). He leads all American born players in goals (544) and points (1,331). He has been a part of just about every U.S. Hockey team in international play since 1988, including World Junior Championships, World Championships, World Cup of Hockey, and the Olympics. He was a part of that defining Gold-Medal winning American team in the 1996 World Cup of Hockey in addition to the Silver Medal winning team in the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. Modano also lifted the Stanley Cup with Dallas in 1999.

However, what Modano did for American hockey can't be measured. Statics, awards, trophies, and medals can't quantify what he did for the sport in this country. He, along with the 1996 World Cup team, made American kids feel like they could play. It was an inspirational win, and although it is not nearly on the same level as the "Miracle on Ice", it brought the game to a whole new generation of American kids. That win made the country feel as though we could compete with Canada in "Their Game." He did a lot for the growth of hockey in the United States, and he helped give the country confidence in the sport.

Tonight was most likely Modano's last home game in Dallas, and it was an emotional one for everyone involved. It was clearly even getting to Modano as he sat on the bench. With his team down 2-1 with under a minute remaining, Modano scored to tie it up. The game went through overtime without a decision, so it was time for the shootout. Once again, Modano came through in the clutch and scored the shootout-winning goal. Dallas won 3-2. Judging by his actions, Modano was treating this as though it was his last home game. Last night, fellow American hockey great Keith Tkachuk announced his retirement after this season. Losing these great American players is heart-breaking, but us hockey fans south of the border have a very bright future to look forward to. We may have lost Jeremy Roenick, Modano, and Tkachuk, (with Chris Chelios and Bill Guerin in the twilight of their careers) but we have some of the best young players in the game like Patrick Kane, Zach Parise, Ryan Miller, Jack and Erik Johnson (no relation to each other) and T.J. Oshie. The future is bright for USA Hockey, and I can't wait for Sochi in 2014.

In the meantime, I will no longer have any reason to like Dallas even a little bit. Thank you for all your years of dedication and hard work, Modano. You turned hockey around for this country and it won't be forgotten.

And if anyone gets mad at my hatred for Dallas, just remember: it's Mike Modano's fault for leaving.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Caps Sweep Pens

In their last regular season game at the Igloo, the Captials looked to sweep rival Penguins for the first time in franchise history. And as they have so many times this season, this team re-wrote that history. They took a convincing 6-3 win that saw Captain Ovechkin finally break out of his scoring slump with two goals, and balanced scoring from all four lines. Knuble and Ovechkin scored for the first line, Semin and Fleischmann scored for the second line, and Bradley got the fourth line on the board on a nice feed from Laing. The third line was also dominant for stretches of the game, worked the cycle well, and got quite a few chances it was unable to convert. Varlamov finished with 26 saves.

Tonight was a reminder of just how good this team can be when it is motivated and team-oriented. They got balanced scoring and spectacular goaltending when needed (though I'm sure Varly wanted that second goal back). Ovechkin scored four seconds into the Caps lone power play opportunity for his first goal since the game against Calgary last Sunday. His second goal, however, will inevitably cause some uproar among his critics. He slid the puck into the empty net with just .2 seconds left with his team already up by two. They will say he is selfish. They will say he only cares about individual awards. They will say he is a bad sport. And they will most certainly be wrong.

Ovechkin had been going though a slump, and he needed that goal to help get his rhythm back. His coach, recognizing this and knowing that Ovi is a go-to scorer who can ice the game, put him on the ice. His teammates realized this too, and tried to get him the puck so he could climb back into ties for both the race for the Art Ross (with Henrik Sedin at 106 points) and the Rocket Richard (with Crosby at 48 goals). What is wrong with that? These guys are professionals, they are competitive, and there is not a single player in the NHL who wouldn't have put that game away. I doubt Ovi knew exactly how much time was left. Even if he did, he still would have put the puck in the net. He is a scorer. It is what he does. It is his job. He also did something that the Caps have been criticized for not having enough of: a killer instinct. Caps critics often point out how the team has had trouble putting opponents away late in the third and not taking their opportunities. So I guess it's only fitting that Ovi takes heat for correcting that tomorrow.

This game no doubt meant more to the Pens. They are now two points back from New Jersey for their division lead and the second seed in the conference. Also, and perhaps more importantly, it puts them winless against both Washington and the Devils this year, and they will have to go through at least one if not both of those teams in order to repeat as Eastern Conference Champions.

The regular season battle, as it did last year, goes to the Capitals. Now all they have to do is take the inevitable playoff battle too.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Our Capitol has a New President

Somewhat buried in all of the excitement surrounding the McNabb trade last night is the fact that the San Jose Sharks lost to the Colorado Avalanche, causing the Capitals to clinch the first Presidents' Trophy in franchise history. The award is for the best record in the regular season, but we all know the Caps true goals lie in the post-season. The statistics for Presidents' Trophy winners are not in their favor: only 7 teams that won the award went on the win the Stanley Cup and no team has ever won the Cup after winning the Presidents' Trophy for the first time. However, this is not a Caps team that has accepted limits this season, with a franchise record in wins (51), road wins (23), and points (114). They also had a 14-game winning streak, best in franchise history and tied for third longest in the history of the NHL. Every barrier they have come across they have shattered, and this could be no different. This team still has yet to prove their worth in the post-season. It is frustrating to have, statistically, the best team in hockey and still hear criticisms and doubts about their playoff ability. But the playoffs are a different story, and until the Caps make a deep run or win a Cup, those worries are always going to be there.

Losing to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions in a heartbreakingly epic seven game series last year did this team a lot of good. You have to lose in order to know how to win, and with some key additions last summer and trades throughout the season, the Caps have been winning. A lot. They have a maturity they never needed to have before. All of their young, somewhat naive players got a taste of victory in the post season with a first round victory over the New York Rangers. And this spring they'll be back for more. Anything short of the finals would be considered a disappointment, and the Caps won't be fully satisfied until they have a parade down Constitution Ave. Until that parade, they will have to answer questions about defense and goaltending. The only way to shut up their critics is to win hockey's Holy Grail, and this team is more than eager to hear that silence.

Divison: check
Conference: check
League: check

Only one goal left to make this the most successful team in the franchise's 35 year history.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Donavan McNabb Dons the Burgundy and Gold

As I said in my last post, one of the exciting parts of spring is the offseason of the Washington Redskins. It is always an exciting time with big time deals and signings. One of those happened today, as the Redskins received Eagles quarterback Donavan McNabb in a trade for a 2010 2nd round pick and either a 3rd or 4th round pick next year. I was shocked by this move. The Redskins had been positioning themselves to draft a quarterback, and it is a Golden Rule of the NFL not to trade a key impact player to a team in your own division. I think the Redskins did this as part of their plan to draft a quarterback. Since the management takeover, it has been fairly obvious that the team wanted to part ways with current starting quarterback Jason Campbell. They did not want to throw a rookie quarterback into a position he is not ready for, so they took McNabb, who has one year left on his contract. In that one year, McNabb can take control of the team and help develop Bradford, who it is suspected the Redskins will draft. It is similar to the reason the Capitals signed Jose Theodore two years ago: get a veteran presence who can get the job done with the young guy (Varlamov) develops into his starting role on the team. It is a move that we won't be able to judge until we see now McNabb fits into this team, but so far it looks Spring Hopeful, especially with the strength of the Redskins running game. That should really help McNabb push through. Come this fall, we'll see just how good McNabb looks in the Burgundy and Gold.

And the Summer Begins

Since the Capitals made their Cinderella run to the playoffs in 2008, April has been one of my favorite times of the year. Nothing matches the intensity of playoff hockey. Nothing. No other sport's playoffs are as high-energy and captivating as that of the NHL. Teams battle tooth and nail, both mentally as physically, beating each other down until the team that is fortunate enough to be bleeding less wins four games. And then they get to look forward to doing it again. And again. And again. Four rounds. Sixteen wins grants your team the honor of being engraved on the oldest, most historical, most traditional trophy in all of sports: the Stanley Cup. From playoff beards to superstitions, no other sport has as much playoff tradition and culture at hockey. It is the most difficult trophy to win. It is also special because teams change in the playoffs. The entire game changes. In baseball and basketball (and to a certain extent football), a team can play the same way throughout the regular season and playoffs and still be successful. This is not true in hockey. A team must adjust to the new style of play: tighter checking, more suffocating defense, and perhaps most important, hot goaltending. A team in hockey that doesn't adjust to playoff style will never win the Holy Grail, and that drama to me is the most captivating in all of sports.

While the team may be terrible, I love the Nationals in the spring. Being an eternal optimist, I always have faith in them in the spring. After see the Capitals rise from the ashes after the lockout, I know that a team can't be that terrible forever. And every spring, I blissfully wonder if this is the year. Before they spell their own name wrong on their jerseys, before they fire everyone, before they lose 100 games, I have hope. Knowing it won't last, I milk it for all it is worth. Could this be the year they only lose 90?

For the same reason I enjoy the Nationals in the spring, I also enjoy the Redskins. Seeing the offseason moves they make, I have the same optimism: maybe this is the right team. Maybe this is just the combination needed to win. It is particularly exciting this year because of the new coaching and front office staffs. Could Snyder finally be leaving football operations to football people? Could Shanahan finally be the guy who knows how to get the most out of this ever under-achieving team? I'm not asking for a Super Bowl or even necessarily a playoff appearance, but at least a winning record to show the team is headed in the right direction. Spring makes everything excited. We don't know for sure that these teams will lose yet, so we allow ourselves to hope for the best and get excited for a new season, hoping this season will wash away the failures of the past.

Oh yeah, and there are Cherry Blossoms and pretty flowers too.

New Beginnings

Hello World of the Bloggers!
I wish to one day be a sports journalist, so for practice I have started this blog. I will be talking mostly about sports, specifically DC sports and hockey in particular (I may be a little obsessed...just maybe). So come back for thoughts on some of the country's worst sports teams! (And one of the best :) ).