Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Why the Caps will Win Game 7

The Washington Capitals have long taunted their fans with tastes of greatness and then fallen short of expectations in the playoffs. Last year’s second round loss in 4 games to Tampa Bay being the latest example. Their dismal record in Game 7’s (2-7) offers little reason for optimism. Defeating the defending Stanley Cup Champions on the road seems like a daunting task. So, why will this year be different? In short, because it can be different, and here’s why.

The Underdog Caps have defied the experts for months

No one expected the Caps to be here, and by no one, I mean all the smart guys in the media. During the last month of the season, when the Capitals were battling the Sabres for the final playoff spot in the East, not a single analyst picked Washington. Zero. One analyst went so far as to say, “the Washington Capitals don’t scare anyone.” Then the Caps dug deep, played some of their best hockey of the season and got into the playoffs. So much for the experts.

Once they got in, the Caps continued to get overlooked. Not a single analyst picked the Caps to win this series with the Bruins, despite the Caps having won the season series with the Bruins (3-1) including two “must win” games down the stretch. Most analysts picked the Bruins in six games (sorry experts). In fact, Jeremy Roenick went so far as to call the Bruins his “lock of the week” in the first round. That means Homer Simpson has his mortgage riding on the black and gold. And the Caps won. And won. And won. Doesn’t sound like a lock to me.

Now it comes down to a best of one, winner take all game, and guess what – no one is picking the Caps. Despite all of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles, historical performances and picks by the media, I believe the Caps are in the best spot because they have NOTHING TO LOSE. They are not defending the Cup, they are not at home, and no one expected them to be playing this game anyway, much less to win it. Preseason predictions aside, the Caps have already gone further in the last two months than anyone gave them credit for. And so, they can play loose and confident and they can win this game.

Dale Hunter is one tough SOB

Game 7 is going to be a street fight, and if there’s one guy on either team that I’d want on my side in a street fight, it’s Dale Hunter. Sure, the Bruins are loaded with tough guys and carry a reputation as the toughest team in the league. But I grew up watching Dale Hunter and he doesn’t take crap from anybody. That is why the Caps haven’t backed down from the rough play or intimidation tactics employed by the Bruins. In fact, they’ve embraced the more physical style of play.

After months of coaching the Caps we are finally seeing the team take on Dale Hunter’s personality. They are committed to shot blocking, defense and fighting it out for pucks in the corner. Everybody is contributing. Even Alex Ovechkin threw his body on the ice to block a shot in Game 6 (okay, it was a little ugly and his teammates and coaches probably had a laugh with it, but the fact is, when the Great 8 does it, everyone is committed to it). They have rallied around a rookie goal tender who is playing great hockey. And, they never give up. They are not intimidated by the Bruins or by Game 7. And given the Caps record on the Bruins’ home ice, I’d say it’s the Bruins who should be scared.

Because the Caps have more talented playmakers

Remember all those playoff losses to Lemieux and Jagr? Lafontaine? Hextall? Well, Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin and Mike Green possess a truckload of talent. And while this has been a tight checking, hard fought series, and these players have under delivered over the course of the season, it is talent that usually wins out in these situations. Alexander Semin in particular has impressed me over the last 6 games. I have never seen him consistently fight as hard for pucks or throw his body in front of shots like he has in this series. And Ovechkin reminded us of what a threat he is when he put a wicked wrister between Tim Thomas’ legs before he had a chance to react. The Caps had plenty of chances to score in Game 6 with brilliant play by all four players mentioned. As long as these guys don’t try to be hero’s, limit mistakes, finish opportunities and play within the system, the Caps will be in it.

Braden Holtby is in the Bruins heads

Despite the high(er) scoring nature of the last two games, the Bruins have launched far more pucks at Braden Holtby than the Caps have at Tim Thomas. Holtby’s statistics in the playoffs are stellar (.935 SV% 2.18 GAA). The Bruins are now admittedly trying different tactics to just get a better scoring chance. Some of it has worked (like shooting at the goalie’s head) but a lot of it has not. And, in a pressure packed Game 7, it will be the Bruins who are desperately trying to create scoring chances, not the Capitals. And, if I’m the coach, Game 7 of a Stanley Cup Playoff series is not where I want to be reinventing my offensive game plan. If the Legend of Braden Holtby hasn't been written already in these playoffs, Game 7 might be the first chapter.

Because anything can happen in the Stanley Cup playoffs

In sports as in life, the Caps have done the one thing they needed to do – put themselves in position to do something great. In a game of hot goalies and bounces of the puck, that’s all you really need, a chance. When you put yourself in position to be successful, good things usually happen. The Caps have been on the wrong end of Stanley Cup playoff mojo for a long time. But I believe it’s their turn to be great. It’s a time when this team, these players, this franchise, and this hockey city turn the corner. Michael Jordan once said he missed more game winning shots than he made in his career. But he always wanted the ball, he always took the last shot, he always wanted to be in that position, exactly where the Caps are tomorrow night. Dale Hunter said that as a player, you have to embrace the moment and have fun with it, and as a fan that is what I'm going to do. For one, I’d much rather be Alex Ovechkin playing in Game 7 than be sitting at home with Sidney Crosby and the Penguins.

Let's go Caps!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Some Things I'm Thinking

I haven’t made a blog post in a couple of weeks. I don’t have a whole lot on my mind right now but I also don’t want to be like that guy who posted LOST recaps and then never posted one for the final episode. So here it goes with a few things I’m thinking.

A long overdue conclusion to the Cherry Blossom

I crushed the Cherry Blossom, running it in 1:23:25, a pace of 8:21 per mile. I beat my personal best by a full 5 minutes. In fact, Eric, Ted and I all set PRs. I was most impressed with Ted, who had barely trained for the race and only decided to run it the Wednesday prior. Congrats to all the runners. All your training and hard work paid off!

My prayers go out to the family of Lloyd Blackwell, who suffered a heart attack while running the Cherry Blossom and later died on Easter Sunday. It is moments like this that remind us of how fragile life is and helps us to appreciate the people in ours.

I now have the Buffalo Half Marathon circled on my calendar for Sunday, May 26th. It’s not that I want to run another fast race, but I do want to give myself a goal to keep up the weekly grind of running. My goal for this race will be to break 2 hours, which seems within reach given my performance in the Cherry Blossom. My personal best for a half marathon is 2:13.

Some Thoughts on Beer

While in DC I picked up a few cans of DC Brau, the hot new brewery located in the District (on Bladensburg Road, just inside the Maryland border). Beer is available only from the brewery in growlers and in cans, although retailers anticipate that the beer will be available soon. The canned beer – the Citizen, the Public and Corruption – is all very solid. Most patrons opted for the Citizen, a Belgian style pale ale, but I preferred Corruption, a hoppy IPA. The Penn Quarter Porter – currently available only on tap – is also a rock solid beer. It is a fitting tribute to our forefathers from a DC brewery. George Washington was known to favor porter, and even brew his own. The vibe at the brewery was awesome with approximately 100 people hanging out, sampling beer, taking tours and listening to music. There was also a food truck parked outside to serve hungry patrons. It was a very vibrant scene with people of all ages enjoying the renaissance of craft brewing in the District. It’s worth a visit when you’re there.

I recently returned from a week-long vacation in Hilton Head, SC where I got to sample a bunch of local brews. My favorite was an IPA from the Hilton Head Brewing Company, although I recommend skipping the food and going only for the beer. We had the worst experience ever there and the service was as poor as I can remember. Other beers worth sampling when you’re down that way are Sweetwater 420 Pale Ale and Palmetto Pale Ale. While neither beer is particularly memorable, both are good beers and a welcome selection for vacationing beer enthusiasts. Stop by your local Piggly Wiggly to pick up a 6 pack or grab one on tap at the Salty Dog.