Archives for posts with tag: NHL

The Washington Capitals play the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL Playoffs for the tenth time starting Thursday night…and for the record the record is a broken one.  The Caps have prevailed just once over their former Patrick Division and current Metropolitan Division foes…as the two-decade Atlantic/Southeast separation did nothing to temper those flames.  Nine meetings with eight that resulted in heartbreak for DC:

1991-Patrick Division Finals.  The upstart Capitals were the defending division champs while the Penguins won the regular season title and were looking for their first-ever trip to the NHL’s final four.  The Caps took game on in the Steel city and had a chance to return home up two games to none.  The Penguins and Kevin Stevens (overtime goal in Game Two’s 7-6 heartbreaker) had other plans.  They’d then win the next three games by a combined 10-3 score and eliminate the Capitals.  By the way, the Penguins would go on to win the Stanley Cup that year.

1992-Patrick Division Semifinals.  The defending champions lost coach Bob Johnson to brain cancer and brought in Hall of Famer Scotty Bowman.  The Penguins finished tied for third and lost three of the first four games in the first round.  Unfortunately the Captials blew a 3-1 series lead as Mario Lemieux tallied four goals and five assists in the last three games of the series (Penguins would light the lamp 18 times in that stretch). Another Cup for the Penguins…another offseason of discontent for the Capitals.

1994-Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Yes, the oddly named divisions and conferences went the way of the dodo bird thanks to Commissioner Gary Bettman who somehow still is employed by the league.  The Caps drew the 7th seed while the Penguins won the Northeast Division…and just like 1991 the teams would split in Pittsburgh.  But then the Caps would hold the Pens to one goal in two games at Landover– both wins for the home team.  Kelly Miller would tally a goal and two assists in the Game Six series clincher.  Who cares if the Caps would lose in the next round to the Rangers?

1995-Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. One year after proving the Penguins dominance was a fluke, the Caps take a 3-1 series lead before coughing up 14 goals over the last three games en route to another early summer.  How bad was this collapse?  Team mascot “Winger the Eagle” was not retained in the offseason.

1996-Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Capitals light the lamp 11 times while taking a surprise 2-0 series lead before scoring six goals over the next four games…all losses. That includes a 4-overtime series defining defeat in Game Four.

2000-Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. The first playoff game at the MCI Center saw the Penguins prevail 7-0.  Not a misprint…Olaf Kolzig coughed up six goals before being lifted.  Due to scheduling conflicts, the next two games were in Pittsburgh and the Caps returned to DC down 3-0.  The game that should have been in DC…was lost in overtime. Just because.

2001-Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.  Once again the Caps enter as division champs. Let the record show playing in the Southeast Division may not have prepared this team that well for the postseason.  Once again they squander home ice.  Only this time their season ends with an overtime loss in Pittsburgh.  Sound familiar?

2009-Eastern Conference Semifinals.  The avidly anticipated meeting between Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby would add a different wrinkle to the rivalry.  Ovi tallied 14 points in the series while Sid the Kid led the Penguins with 13.  But it was on May 13 that the Caps’ luck ran out in a 6-2 blowout loss at Verizon Center.

2016-Eastern Conference Semifinals.  Finally, the Caps would set things straight as the President’s Trophy-winning team that was a much more sound bunch than the high-wire act of Bruce Boudreau that provided thrills and chills, but also plenty of spills.  The overtime Game One win would set things in the right direction, correct?  No dice.  And the series would end in overtime on a Penguins goal–again.

 

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Previously appearing on WTOP.COM…

 

It happens every spring… beauty and awe before they’re gone all of a sudden.  The Cherry Blossom season more often than not mirrors the Caps postseason:  heavy anticipation, attention-grabbing quick bloom,  and then after one or two rains it’s all gone.

The Capitals have enjoyed a checkered postseason in their history…unfortunately getting double-jumped by Pittsburgh, the Islanders and Rangers on multiple occasions while having to hear the refrain “King Me” a lot more than they’d prefer.  But in the middle of the wreckage of many a spring on ice they have also had their moments–it’s just tough to locate the highlights amongst the heartbreak.  Two provide a nice bookend to get us started…

 

Highlight Honorable Mention: 1983.  In Bryan Murray’s first full season as head coach, the previously hapless Caps (8-67-5 in their first year…and it took six seasons to post a winning percentage above .400) actually make the playoffs and lose to the eventual Stanley Cup champion New York Islanders.  Just like being nominated for best documentary, it was simply an honor to be the first speedbump that season for Mike Bossy, Billy Smith & company.

Heartbreak Honorable Mention: 2015.  Losing to the Rangers is never fun…and blowing a 3 games to 1 series lead is even more painful.  Thank you, Curtis Glencross for your contribution to Caps Collapse History.  Still, they bounced the Islanders (although losing game 6 meant they couldn’t close out Nassau Coliseum).  They won a game the same night the Wizards and Nats prevailed…and it was coach Barry Trotz’s first season.  Of course, the key to getting over heartbreak is rationalization.

 

Highlight #5: 1994.  Sadly, it’s a little bit of a challenge to find roses amongst the playoff thorns for this franchise.  But in 1994 they bounced recent nemesis Pittsburgh (who beat the Caps en route to Stanley Cups in 1991 & 92) in six games…outscoring the likes of Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr from the get-go.  Don Beaupre stood on his head for four games…while Joe Juneau and Michal Pivonka led a balanced attack that more than took advantage of their opportunities.  The Caps won the series clincher 6-3 and had other games where they lit the lamp 4 and 5 times.  What happened to that NHL?

 

Heartbreak #5: 1986.  The eighties was a fantastic decade to follow the NHL-their playoffs were front and center on ESPN and the divisional playoff format led to upset-ridden Aprils.  The Patrick Division featured three teams in one metropolitan area and three more within manageable drives of one another.  An eighty game marathon to determine who’s the best…followed by five and seven game sprints to see who survives.  The Capitals finished with the third best record (107 points) in the league that year…but second in the division to Philadelphia.  When the Flyers were upset in the first round by the Rangers…the path was clear to a Stanley Cup Finals clash with defending champ Edmonton.  Only the Rangers (who finished with a pedestrian 78 regular season points) had more in the tank…bouncing Mike Gartner and company in six games.  Small consolation:  Edmonton lost in their divisional finals as well that year.

 

Highlight #4: 1984. You never forget your first series win.  Especially when it’s a sweep.  Against the team less than 3 hours up I-95.  And especially when it ends the career of Hall of Famer Bobby Clarke.  Long before he was ruining the Flyers on a short-term (as General Manager) and long-range (as Senior VP) basis, Clarke was one of the scrappiest (some will say dirtiest) players in the league.  He was the face of the franchise in Philadelphia…and to sweep him into retirement by beating the Flyers in the Spectrum was the extra onions on the cheesesteak.  Yes, they lost to the Islanders in the next round.  But still…

 

Heartbreak #4: 1989.  Finally, a Patrick Division regular season championship.  This would be the team that would finally emerge from the early rounds…only to learn that in the divisional playoff format turnabout isn’t just fair play, it’s often expected.  The Caps got bounced by an aging Philadelphia team in six games.  These weren’t the Broad Street Bullies…or even the Cup runners-up from 1987.  How bad were these Flyers?  Their 80 points was the team’s fewest since 1972 and they’d go on to miss the playoffs the next five seasons.  Which brings to mind the question about banner protocol.  Do you have to return the regular season championship banner if you lose in the first round?

 

Highlight #3: 2012.  A team in turmoil fires its coach early in the season and brings in a legend (Dale Hunter) to put the house in order.  After finishing two games over .500…the grittier version went into Boston and won a game seven (thank you Joel Ward!) before taking the #1 team in the conference (Rangers) to seven games in the next round.  The foundation was set.  And Coach Dale Hunter would be back to take this franchise to the next level.  Only he didn’t…choosing to return to his role as president and owner of the London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League.  The team would stagger and then crumble under Adam Oates.  But we’ll always have that spring…

 

Heartbreak #3: 2009.  After winning the Southeast Division (let the record show that it was called the SouthLEAST for much of its existence), the Caps trailed the Rangers 3 games to 1 before taking games five, six and seven (so it does happen the other way sometimes!).  A thrilling conference semifinal showdown against Pittsburgh and Sidney Crosby brought three overtime affairs and a 3-3 series tie heading into a Game Seven at Verizon Center.  Sadly, this finish would be more floundering than fantastic and the Penguins won a 6-2 clincher that wasn’t as close as the score looked.  That Pittsburgh would go on to win the Stanley Cup would be little consolation this time.

 

Highlight #2: 1990.  An underwhelming regular season saw the Caps finish with a losing record for the first time in eight years.  Naturally there was a midseason coaching change.  Oddly enough, coach Bryan Murray was replaced by his brother Terry.  Thankfully Bryan didn’t go all Fredo (he remains smart and deserves respect).  Despite an 18-14-2 finish under Murray 2.0, little was expected.  And with low expectations comes a surprising first round triumph over New Jersey.  Followed by shocking the first place Rangers in five games.  Even after getting swept by a better Boston team in the Cup Semis, the team’s first and only Patrick Division banner remains a high point during their stay in Landover.

 

Heartbreak #2: 1987.  Again, sometimes its how the movie ends that enhances everything before it.  The seven-game showdown with the Islanders was one for the ages.  Another 3 games to 1 lead with a game five at home.  Haven’t we written this script before?  Yes…but only this time the game seven went down to the wire and beyond.  A late one-goal lead disappeared with 5 minutes left in regulation.  Four overtimes later Pat LaFontaine ends the Capitals’ season…and a game that began at 7pm concludes at 1:58 am.   Easter morning was a groggy one for many families in the area.

 

Highlight #1: 1998.  After finishing third in their division, the Caps rode hot goaltender Olaf Kolzig to the finals for the first time in franchise history.  Never mind that they got swept by Detroit.  And never mind that they took advantage of a busted bracket (upsets of Pittsburgh and New Jersey meant they would have better records than each of their playoff foes in the first three rounds).  Even the teal eagle jerseys couldn’t ruin this run.

 

Heartbreak #1:  2010.  After winning the President’s Trophy, the high-flying offensive juggernaut looked as though it was ready to finally crown Alex Ovechkin (career high 59 assists), Nicklas Backstrom (career highs in goals and assists) and Mike Green (before the injuries).  After taking a 3-1 first round series lead over Montreal (and posting 19 goals)…they somehow forgot the league changed the format to best-of-seven back in the 1980’s.  Yes, the Canadiens Jaroslav Halak somehow conjured up the spirits of Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy to limit the #1 offense in the league to 1 goal in games 5, 6 and 7.  But to lose in the first round after 82 games of positive reinforcement?  The Bruce Boudreau regime would never be the same–making its eventual departure less than 20 months later.

Summer came later this year for the winter residents of Verizon Center…for the first time ever the Wizards and Capitals advanced to the second round of their respective playoffs.  Sadly the confidence of sweeping Toronto and the buzz of a seventh game triumph over the Islanders washed away with each team losing three straight games en route to similar summer vacations.  Plenty of progress made on each front– but exits that while aren’t unexpected (both lost to the conference’s top seed) still keep the teams in a familiar place.  Not even in position to get in position for a possible title.  The Capitals haven’t been to a conference final since 1998–despite more than a few chances with a multiple MVP winner.  The Wizards–let’s go back to 1979 when the Bullets were last in the NBA’s Final Four.  That was the year that Magic and Bird met in the NCAA’s Final Four–a demarcation line dividing pro hoops Jurassic Era from the “Birmagijordan Era” (apologies for an unwieldy mashup) that powered the league’s ascendance over a 20 year span (for those scoring at home…I guess the “modern” era of Duncan/Lebron is in its latter stages, I just need to come up with an equally bad title).  It’s been a while since either team had a chance to play for a title–what needs to be addressed as each reloads for a run?

 

The Wizards saw a 2-1 lead (thanks to Paul Pierce’s last-second basket) evaporate despite the late-game heroics of Paul Pierce:  yes, the truth is he missed a game-tying three at the end of Game 4–but his three put the club ahead briefly in Game 5 and his game-tying 3 was waved off in Game 6. Fans not only have those what-ifs to deal with, but the absence of John Wall for three games with 5 non-displaced fractures in his left wrist and hand will have the faithful thinking they could have swept the Hawks (fans are fun that way).  Their 46 wins were the most since the 1978-79 title season.  Can they build on that or will this be like previous nucleus peaks of 2005 (45 wins and a sweep by Miami in the 2nd round), 1997 (44 victories and a sweep by Chicago in the 1st round) or 1987 (sadly, 42 wins and a sweep by Detroit was as good as it got in the 80’s)?  Wizards’ needs include a producer inside (Nene was negligible in the postseason) and a second unit sparkplug (Otto Porter showed flashes in the postseason, but was always better when playing with the starters).  Kevin Seraphin picked a great time to let everybody know he becomes a free agent– his 13 points and 8 rebounds was the one frontcourt bright spot in the Game 6 loss (although Nene notched 11 rebounds, the Brazilian Big Man, Paul Pierce and food-poisoned Marcin Gortat shot 4-18).  Other players hitting the free agent market are Drew Gooden (who’s been a nice veteran presence on this club), Rasual Butler (who played in just 2 playoff games) and Will Bynum (who notched 19 points in 27 minutes against the Hawks in the playoffs).  Paul Pierce and Garrett Temple have player options;  while the 37-year old Pierce suffers from excessive mileage and might just decide to call it a career…you’d hope they’d find a way to bring #34 back.  Temple was hurt late in the season–and his money might be better spent elsewhere.  On the bright side, Andray Blatche’s amnestied contract finally clears the books this summer.

 

The Capitals didn’t necessary collapse in their Eastern Conference Semifinal Series with the Rangers–but it’s tough to ignore a blown late lead in Game 5 followed by sluggish start in Game 6.  The Game 6 implosion–although they rallied to make it a one-goal game–is what concerns me.  It was at home.  There was a chance to advance and they coughed up early and late first period goals.  Say what you will about the overtime losses in Games 5 and 7–but the one that still stings is the Mother’s Day defeat.  Year one under Barry Trotz saw a return to the playoffs…and another 50-goal season for Alex Ovechkin and another 60-assist season for Nicklas Backstrom.  Not to mention iron-man goaltender Braden Holtby (Glenn Hall, watch your back).  As always, it feels like the Caps are closer than the Wiz but there are still a few roadblocks on the highway to the Cup Finals.  Can they find a front-line scorer to compliment Ovechkin and Backstrom?  Only Spinal Tap drummers had similar shelf lives this winter on that line.  Will they get a solid second-line center to maximize the likes of Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky?  Do they even try to re-sign Mike Green?  It’s been six years since the defenseman’s offensive numbers peaked with 31 goals and 42 assists.  How do they address in-season acquisitions with expiring contracts like Curtis Glencross  and Tim Gleason?  Other unrestricted free agents include Eric Fehr, Jay Beagle and Joel Ward.  We’ll learn this summer if they were simply holdovers from the previous regime or guys Trotz wants in his dressing room.  Kuznetsov, Marcus Johannson and Braden Holtby are restricted free agents this summer.  Keeping #70 in DC is priority #1.

 

 

Timing is everything.  On the day of the first home NBA playoff game in DC since 2008, the Redskins make Robert Griffin III available to the media.  On the morning after a tough Game 3 loss by the Wizards, the Capitals make a regime change by firing Coach Adam Oates and not giving General Manger George McPhee a new contract.  A sleepy DC that had been on edge for two weeks awaiting word of the status of a GM that went back to the team’s final days in Landover received quite a shock at brunch.  For the first time in a while, the Capitals are the area franchise in the biggest transition.

It had to happen.  Not many General Managers last for 17 years at any spot…especially if they haven’t delivered a Stanley Cup.  The closest the Caps got under GM GM was in his first season at the helm when the Teal Eagle jersey clad bunch (unless they were sporting the alternate Capitol + sticks top) got swept in the Finals by Detroit.  Some compare the Caps reaching the Finals in McPhee’s first season to Maryland football winning the ACC in Ralph Friedgen’s first campaign;  both had initial success and were ride out the capital of their initial success with a nucleus not completely of their doing.  And both came under fire years later when teams completely built with their players faltered.

Location, location, location– some say that McPhee was able to extend his stay in DC because the Caps were realigned from the competitive Atlantic Division into the Southeast early in his tenure.  And while Tampa Bay and Carolina won Cups in the seasons before and after the lockout, the grouping certainly seemed “Southleast” the last couple of years (2013 in particular).  Once in a division with a questionable name but quality competition, the Caps may have been waiting for that April awakening that always occurred against division foes– only to find the Metropolitan not nearly as forgiving.

McPhee tried to get the team back to the Finals by adding high-priced veterans until the team got too old…and owner Ted Leonsis with being patient about McPhee developing a plan to get this team built from the ground up.  After reaching the postseason in 2008 and winning a first round series in 2009, the Caps were poised to make noise in 2010 as the President’s Cup Trophy winner.  But a 3-1 First Round series lead evaporated against Montreal Goalie Jaroslav Halak– and since then the team’s been chasing its proverbial tail.  Switching styles and goalies like socks.  Making reactive instead of proactive moves.  In that way Adam Oates was the perfect final coach of the McPhee era:  juggling lines not just between games but between periods.

The team finished 13th in scoring and 21st in goals against this past winter:  instead of blaming a revolving door between the pipes (four netminders…with Jarslav Halak fittingly coming to the Caps via trade to wrap up the insanity), a bad blue line didn’t help things.  Fourteen defenseman saw ice time this season–and only three (Alzner, Carlson, Green) played at least 55 games.  There seemed to be constant movement up and down I-83 to minor league Hershey– providing a lack of consistency that seemed to provide problems on a regular basis.  The inability to bolster the blue line was one of the key factors in the Caps being unable to make the playoffs.  How many quick goals were allowed?  How many 2-goal leads evaporated?  At times the defense was offensive…and not in a good way.

Another factor in the team’s decline was the lack of even-strength success for Alex Ovechkin (24 of his 51 goals and 15 of his 28 assists came on the power play–add in a shorthanded assist and the majority of his points came in special teams situations).  Some blame can be fixed on the GM– the lack of a solid #2 center definitely hurt– but some blame can be placed on the coach.  Instead of keeping Ovechkin with Backstrom– the first line had a slot-machine feel to it.  And unfortunately the Caps rarely got three pineapples in a row.

Seventeen years is a long time to be anywhere.  The Capitals are definitely the better for being under George McPhee’s guidance…but the time has come for a fresh perspective and different approach to building around the current nucleus before it gets too old (six of the top seven goal-scorers from this years team were at least 28).  A new GM with his coach in charge.  Where as the pressure was previously on McPhee to make things work with the coach…and the coach to make things work with Ovechkin/Backstrom/Green/goalie du jour, the next era will be on the shoulders of #8.  Will the captain be able to adjust to a new regime?  George McPhee’s legacy is complete.  Adam Oates’ legacy, however brief as coach, is set.  How Alex Ovechkin will go down in Caps history is up to him as much as it will be dependent on the moves made this spring by his owner.

For some, Miami finished off San Antonio by closing the same door in game seven the Spurs couldn’t close in game six; the Heat’s 95-88 win brought confetti to the court on South Beach but awoke the echoes of “the wrong team won”. We fall for sports as kids thinking that good vanquishes evil and the that myth translates to the field, diamond, court or ice. We want to believe that if we want it enough and try our hardest-we can outwork more talented teams. But great talent trumps smart strategy…and excellent execution exceeds fantastic chemistry. So you can say the wrong team won…but whenever the Heat needed to make a play in the postseason they responded.

But I will admit the Miami Heat aren’t the easiest team to embrace. From “The Decision” to Dwyane Wade being a dirty player to Chris Bosh being a Zeppo Marx in shorts, the South Beach Big Three has more than its share of baggage. There’s the Birdman and his technicolor tatoos. There’s coach Eric Spoelstra, the Chachi to Pat Riley’s Fonzie. Then there is the fair-weather image of the Heat fans that left the arena with under a minute to play only to try to re-enter once their team they gave up on sent the game into overtime. Compared to the humble image of the San Antonio Spurs, who wouldn’t suffer on some level?

Over the years I’ve enjoyed and covered sports, there have been a few teams that I just couldn’t embrace. And while I give props to the two-time champions, I welcome them to a select club. Now I’m sure there are those that still have it in for the Broad Street Bullies of the 1970’s and how they slugged their way past the smooth skating Buffalo Sabres…just like there are Houston haters who maintain they wouldn’t have won if Jordan hadn’t retired. Your comments are welcome if I’ve missed somebody or if you have these team’s posters hanging in your room.

College Football–1984 BYU–who did they play? Definitely not anybody good in the Western Athletic Conference while the Oklahomas, Washingtons, Floridas and Nebraskas were beating each other’s brains out. Who did they play in the Holiday Bowl? A 6-5 Michigan team that was Bo Schembechler’s worst.

NHL–1995 New Jersey Devils–hello neutral zone trap…effectively bringing Mike Fratello’s Cleveland Cavaliers to the ice. Successfully turned back the hockey clock to 1934 and helped secure second class citizenship for the league (no truth to the rumor Commissioner Gary Bettman was still on the NBA payroll).

NFL–1995 Dallas Cowboys–brash, arrogant and poorly coached by a bumbling Barry Switzer. This me-first bunch boasted a gloating Michael Irvin and self-congratulatory Deion Sanders…who joined the team midseason after baseball’s spotlight waned. Thanks to a pair of poor passes by Neil O’Donnell, this smirking squad never got its comeuppance.

Baseball–1997 Florida Marlins–while some were pointing at the New York Yankees as the best team money could buy…the Marlins were actually pieced together in a mercenary style that would put the Boba Fett and IG-88 to shame. Buoyed by a pair of classic clubhouse cancers in Gary Sheffield and Bobby Bonilla, the Marlins won a World Series and then held a fire sale–setting the standard for cut-and-run franchises.

College Basketball–2012 Kentucky–we know college hoops is more about hoops than college, but the rotating door of one-and-dones in Lexington recently made 90210’s Valerie Malone look stable. Add the Big Blue royal expectations…a subpar SEC…and a coach who took two schools to the Final only to have both trips vacated by the NCAA…and you’ve got a champ you appreciate but can’t really embrace. And that’s not even accounting for Anthony Davis’ unibrow.

Did it have to end this way? Couldn’t the Caps have not turned things on with an 11-1-1 April? Couldn’t they have dropped one of the two overtime games that they wound up winning-only masking a team that didn’t lead in regulation after the 12:50 mark of the first period of game three? Meaning after game one the Caps led for exactly 8:44 of the final 377 minutes and 24 seconds. The summer of discontent begins with questions, comments and concerns in Caps Nation.

Seventh Hell?– the Caps fall to 3-9 lifetime in Game Sevens…and 1-8 at home (the only win coming in 2009 over the New York Rangers). Their history of misery began on the night before Easter in April 1987 when they lost in four overtimes to Pat LaFontaine and the New York Islanders– I had to get up at 6am the following day to go to church to play handbells. Let’s just say Eggs Benedict on 4 hours sleep does not work wonders-especially with bells clanging repeatedly.

Southeast Mirage– while the Capitals made their run, they were loading up (15-3) on a weak Southeast Division–the only division to send just one team to the playoffs and one that boasted three of the four worst records in the league. Next winter they’ll be realigned into something similar to the old Patrick Division-making their path the postseason much more difficult but perphaps will better prepare them for when they get there.

Penalties Posing Problems– 14 more penalty minutes brought the Caps’ 7 game total to 76. Every try to sprint after laying back on your heels for an extended period of time? When you spend one out of every six minutes trying to hold off a power play…it’s tough to generate offensive flow and momentum. There were a few mystifying penalties. And there were some stupid ones. Cleaning them up in the future when games matter most will be a priority.

Lundqvist Lays Down the Lumber– It’s tough to consistently outshoot your opponent yet consistently come up empty. The Caps were stonewalled again by Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist– 62 saves over the last two games…the Rangers in their duck and dive defensive style were able to limit quality chances. While there’s no shame in losing to a hot goaltender, Caps fans have to wonder when they have the standing on his head goalie again. Is Braden Holtby that guy? He had played superbly until Monday’s defeat…and in looking at the longview is the best netminder this current Caps generation of players has had behind them.

Mister May?– with apologies to baseball HOF Dave Winfield and the late George Steinbrenner, it’s actually a good thing to be sort of a Mister May in the NHL Playoffs. After scoring a league-high 32 goals in the lockout-shortened regular season, Alex Ovechkin tallied 1 goal and 1 assist in the series with the Rangers. Usually a producer in the postseason (first four years averaging more than 1 point a game, with a high of 10 goals and 11 assists in 14 games in 2009), the Caps captain posted 9 points over 14 games last sping…and saw that production decrease this May. He’s got to go home and have a summer like Larry Bird did in 1984 when the Celtics got swept by Milwaukee…the legend came back focused and on fire en route to the three best years of his career. Does Ovie have the aptitude and attitude to maximize his altitude?

It takes a Village– now while we acknowledge the importance of having your best players play their best…hockey is the one sport where the dominant stars have the least overall influence. A quarterback handles the ball on every play. A pitcher determines every pitch. And a great basketball player can touch the ball every time up the floor. Ovechkin is only on the ice for 35 to 45 seconds at a time… and relies on his teammates as much as if not more than other sports’ elite players. Martin Erat’s injury midway through the series undercut the second line… and Brooks Laich’s season long struggles hurt the team as well. What moves will need to be made to maintain the nucleus that coach Adam Oates desires yet improve the overall talent so next May there’s a second or even third series to think about?

Cruel Summer– this season began in late January due to the lockout, many marveled at how long the offseason was. Truth is, after experiencing just enough playoff success to think of it as a probability instead of simply a possibility–every offseason you’re not playing for a Cup (let alone playing for playing for a Cup)-is a long, cruel summer.

I grew up an hour north of Boston.  I’ve covered the Marathon.  My sister was on the same block as the explosions yesterday…and my cousin’s wife was at the finish line with her 1 and 3 year old until a half hour before the blasts.  One reason why I fell into sports journalism is that it’s fun…aka the toy department… and I can try to be mildly amusing when talking about Toronto playing Tampa Bay by saying “You can call them Rays, you can call them Jays”.  Again, the focus is more on mild than amusing.  But one can’t be sarcastic about train accidents, trials or war.  I’m the comedic relief.  It’s tough when the nasty world invades my own…I was covering Otto Porter Jr’s announcement he was headed to the NBA when the Marathon went from sporting spectacle to a day of disaster.  I scrambled to reach my sister and although she was safe she was understandably shaken.  I’ve heard her happy and sad over the years–but never in terror…and as a big brother that shook the hell out of me.  I feel for the victims.  I’m happy friends and family are safe.  And I hope justice comes in finding who’s responsible for this.  Now it’s time for another press conference (Maryland’s Alex Len going pro)…and afternoon drive updates on WTOP, where I try to be mildly amusing.  To paraphrase Lorne Michaels and Rudy Guiliani, “Can I be funny?”–“Why start now?”.

Miami makes everything go down better– Seems as thought all the Nationals needed was a trip to South Beach to cure their recent ills…getting swept by Atlanta. It’s a long season, but it’s never good to be broomed at home by one of your division rivals.  Bullpen issues (13th in the National League in OBP, 14th SLG, 3rd in blown saves) catching injuries (Ramos on the shelf in a strange sense of deja vu) and the inability to beat playoff teams (1-5 against teams that made the 2013 postseason) have to temper whatever Nattitude was as full steam after the opening series sweep of the AAA Miami Marlins.  I almost want to downgrade the Marlins to a minor league city like “Dade County Dipsy Doodles” until they get their act together.  And with another three-spot against this mess of a franchise, the Marlins may be the worst thing for this club right now–giving the Nats false confidence when they still have a ways to go to get back to last year’s level.  If you win, so what– these are the Marlins.  And when you can’t beat the worst team in the league like Tuesday night, what are you to do?  A key early stretch is on the horizon–from April 22nd to May 2nd the Nats play 11 games against St. Louis, Cincinnati and Atlanta.  Brace yourselves.

Capital Blossoms– last week I compared the Capitals to the Cherry Blossoms in DC… blooming in early April before becoming an afterthought by mid-May.  Now they have been on a tear as of late… but how much of that is a byproduct of being in the softest division of the NHL (let the record show they are 14-3 against the Southeast Division)? Can this team compete effectively over a seven game series against a legitimately good team?  Tuesday’s 5-1 thumping of Toronto was the 10th out of division win for the team this season (10-14-2) in 26 games…how tired were the Maple Leafs after last night’s 2-0 win over New Jersey?  In a season that’s given us plenty of schedule quirks (like consecutive nights in Winnipeg)… the Caps have started a five game stretch against teams from Canada.  But more importantly they play their final three games at home–including a duel with second place Winnipeg Tuesday April 23rd (Jets trail the Caps by 4 points with 5 games remaining).  Eight straight wins… is there any room left on the bandwagon?

Moving Days– Sophomores Otto Porter, Jr. and Alex Len declare for the NBA one day apart while Georgetown and Maryland wish them well.  Coach John Thompson III wasn’t shocked:  “We weren’t caught off guard…we expected Otto to move on after this year.”  Coach Mark Turgeon knew it was time:  “Alex has been a pro since he set foot on campus…the way the practices, the way he takes care of himself”.  While the Hoyas and Terps would be much better next winter with Porter and Len, the lure of first round guaranteed money was too good to pass up.  Even if the 7-foot-1 Len turns out to be a project.  Even if Porter has trouble finding minutes or an ideal position for his skill set.  Each coach heralds their respective sophomore’s work ethic…which is a huge key in making the transition from college to pro basketball.  One hopes they find their way to solid organizations with non-cancerous locker rooms where they can learn, grow and thrive.

Masters– Ah, yes. Tiger’s drop and a 14 year old’s tardiness overshadowed the best weekend for an Australian since George Lazenby landed the role of James Bond.  Tiger tailed off after being in the hunt for most of the first two rounds. Was there golf karma in taking the longer drop? The US Open will be the fifth anniversary of Tiger’s most recent Major championship. Jack Nicklaus’ longest gap during his run?  He had two “droughts”– just under three years (1967-70) and just over five years (1980 PGA-1986 Masters).  One feels it’s only a matter of time before Woods wins another and with conditioning what it is now there appears to be a larger window for him to win 4 or 5 more– but for every Lee Trevino that wins a PGA at 45, there’s a Tom Watson who stops winning majors at 33.  Oh– and congratulations to Adam Scott for winning the tournament.

Standing Pat–  Broadcast legend Pat Summerall passes away at 82.  The voice of the NFL on CBS and FOX called 16 Super Bowls for the two networks over four decades.  His booming voice dominated game opens (check them out on youtube)… and his economy of words made him the perfect complement to John Madden.  In 1981, Summerall and Vin Scully were competing for the #1 play-by-play job at CBS and while Scully painted better word pictures, Summerall didn’t bring the easel as much as set the stage for Madden’s “BOOM’s” and the telestrator.  He said more in five words than most said in fifteen.  I fell for the NFL of Summerall/Madden.  And he made announcing something a 13 year old want to dream about doing.