Last night I thought it all out. I would come in today and write about how tonight’s game in Pittsburgh against the hated Penguins, while big, was being overhyped and convoluted into something it is not.
I can’t lie though, I’m excited for this one.
Nevertheless, you won’t see me use the word “redemption” in any sentence but this. After a heartbreaking game seven loss, a regular season victory is about as spiritually cleansing as a trip to the strip club after your wife has left you. That is to say, not so much. That’s why win or lose Thursday night, we’re not going to instantly replace the memory of May 13th and that 6-2 loss, a game that was so bad that Alexander Ovechkin and Shaone Morrison still haven’t gone back and watched. And really, who could blame them? Certainly not me. I went to that ill-fated game ready for the most colossal of action, prepping for a battle that would befit the final narrative in a series that until then was unremitting in its gargantuan nature. What I got instead was a dud, a deficient part. Imagine if Mel Gibson in that final battle in Braveheart said, “They will take our lives, and they will take our freedom,” and you get a sense of how the Capitals played. Afterwards I was numb inside. I couldn’t even do my journalistic responsibility and get a game story out that night, or the day after, or in fact the day after that, as it took me five days since the game 7 loss before I finally had the wits about me to put something on to paper. And yet, as much as I have bad memories of that series, I woke up today giddy, like a school kid after a snowstorm. Weird I know, but I’ll explain. Tonight’s game, if we win, won’t get us to the third round of the playoffs. But like an alcoholic entering a 12-step program, a win tonight would be the first step in eventually disassociating from the past and moving on from it. That’s why winning tonight, yes is a big deal. This game also has meaning because for the Penguins, the cast of characters are still here. For one, Sidney Crosby of course is still the pride of Pittsburgh and the only player who can rightfully claim to be Ovechkin’s equal. Crosby matched Alex’s eight playoff goals in the second round with eight of his own, and just recently passing him in goals with 32, although Alex has played nine less games. Beyond the non-stop chatter about which played is better; on a personal level it’s also very easy to dislike Crosby. Number one he is the best player on the Penguins which is reason enough, but complaining about the delay Capitals fans caused when they committed the most heinous of acts by throwing hats onto the ice after an Ovechkin hat-trick, is something that will rightfully get you labeled as a killjoy. Though I know Capitals fans have far less PG things to say about this “Shirley” Crosby character. A guy who is perceived as constantly whining to the refs.
Sidney is not amused after Ovechkin’s hat trick (Washington Post photo)
Nevertheless, “No thrills” Sidney, who gives media interviews as if programmed to bore, is a player I think you need to have in the NHL. He is the perfect anti-Ovechkin antidote, the Don Cherry poster-child. A Canadian who says he is against the showboating and joy Alex displays after goals. I think you need guys and talents like him in this league to make things a little more interesting and give the rivalry within the Capitals-Penguins rivalry even more juice. For every elite player, there needs to be a elite player in his way that he needs to beat before we can call him legendary. That’s what we have here as Boudreau compared the Sidney-Ovechkin rivalry to Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson.
But who is Ovechkin? Bird of Magic?
The off-the-ice differences make this one intriguing as well. Unlike Alex who hangs out with models, has his own clothing line and may move on to illegal street racing after his hockey career, you don’t get a sense that Sidney cares about many things outside of hockey. This is after all a guy who is still living in the basement of Mario Lemieux’s house. You think a guy like that is big into the club scene in Pittsburgh? (If there is one) “Hey girl, I’m all world millionaire athlete Sidney Crosby. We’ll hit the club, pop off some bottles and end the night at Super Mario’s basement!” I think not. The Penguins also feature Sergei Gonchar, who may have already been part of Pittsburgh’s payroll when in overtime of game 6, he skated right into Martin Straka who stole the puck and scored an easy breakaway goal in 2001 to give the Penguins the series. Gonchar may have given us some great years, but that is the play I remember most, and the fact that he won a Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh let me tell you does nothing to lighten that game six memory, it only fuels it. The Penguins also have a Russian of note who is a pretty big deal in the form of Evgeni Malkin who last year led the league in points. Malkin, has gone from being Ovechkin’s mortal enemy, to back to being friends at various points in his career, and after winning the Stanley Cup, he’s in one of his more inviting moods, apparently telling SovSports that, “we missed playing the Caps.” How nice of him!
On our side, the feeling is mutual as Tarik El-Bashir reported that a number of players have had this day circled on their calendar as soon as this season’s schedule came out. In a prior column I wrote that this regular season up to this point just hasn’t seemed consequential. Maybe that’s because we simply haven’t played the Penguins yet, a fact that changes tonight. Folks, now more then ever, it’s time to rock the red!!!
For more info: Check out the Washington Post’s great game review here. Caps notes: As if you needed anything to make this game more interesting, former Capials goaltender Brent Johnson will get the start for the Penguins tonight.