Sunday, April 4, 2010

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.

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