It's not often that I write about teams who don't call Toronto home, but the Washington Capitals are doing something special. Only two points out of a playoff spot, the Maple Leafs can help out the Caps in a big way by beating the Ottawa Senators tonight.
The Capitals, led by phenom Alexander Ovechkin, are on a mission. Now in his third and most prolific season in the NHL, Ovechkin is done with missing the playoffs. He's going to the dance, come hell or high water.
While I think Sidney Crosby is one hell of a hockey player, I think Ovechkin is the better player. The kid does it all, and with pizazz. He bangs, he crashes, and boy does he ever score. While Crosby is a superstar in his own right, I think Ovechkin is the best thing to happen to hockey since Wayne Gretzky.
I travelled down to Washington, D.C. with a bunch of friends back in early March to take in a Leafs and Capitals game. I saw Ovechkin play, and score. He is, for lack of a better phrase, freakin' awesome.
Funny story: We were sitting about eight rows behind the glass and amidst our drunken yells for Ovechkin to "Chill!", we also saw Pat Sajak taking in the game. When the game ended and fans, including Mr. Sajak, began walking up the steps to the tunnel, a number of us started yelling "Wheel...Of...Fortune!" in unison. Inebriation had clearly set in at that point, but Sajak still gave us the head nod. He's good people. And after the game, as we bumped into other Leafs fans who were basking in the glory of a 3-2 win outside of the Verizon Center, an impromptu "Jamario Moon! Jamario Moon!" chant broke out. Good times indeed.
Anyway, Ovechkin is the real deal. Thanks to #8, so are the Washington Capitals. It's time to believe the hype.
The Caps, who are in ninth place in the East as I write this, are only two points out of sixth spot. And guess who's in sixth? Yep, those douche bags the Ottawa Senators. The Maple Leafs know what they have to do. A Toronto win over the Senators tonight, combined with a Washington victory over Tampa Bay (which should happen), will give Ottawa and Washington identical 42-31-8 win-loss record's. And the Caps own the tie-breaker, having owned the Sens and winning all four contests between the teams this season. Ottawa, "The Dynasty That Never Was" (a beauty coined by Die Hard Blue And White), are on the verge of a collapse of biblical proportions. The Leafs must do their part to ensure the collapse becomes a reality. We're going down, so we might as well bring the Sens down with us.
And, don't forget, you spell "choke": O-T-T-A-W-A S-E-N-A-T-O-R-S.
The Capitals have won nine of their last 10 games. Sure, they haven't exactly beaten up on the best the NHL has to offer lately - the nine wins have come against NHL powerhouses Carolina (twice), Atlanta (twice), Boston, Florida, Nashville, Calgary and Tampa Bay (only Boston, Carolina and Calgary are playoff teams) - but it doesn't really matter. They're hot at the right time, and as some fool said, "a win is a win is a win."
Ovechkin has been ridiculous down the stretch. Since March 1st, he's registered 27 points in 15 games, and is a +18 over that span. For a guy who was -19 last year, Ovechkin has improved his defensive game a ton. His 63 goals and 110 points are both tops in the league and if he doesn't win the Hart Trophy, well, somebody messed up, because Ovechkin has been in on 110 of the 249 goals the Capitals have scored this year. He accounts for an astonishing 44% of the Washington offence.
Alex The Great is also getting some help in pushing the Capitals to a playoff spot. Rookie Nicklas Backstrom has had a great season, and really stepped up once Michael Nylander, the Capitals' big free-agent signing, suffered a season ending shoulder injury. While everyone talks about Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks, I think Backstom should win the Calder as rookie of the year. His 53 assists and 67 points lead all NHL rookies. I know, even my mom could rack up that many assists if she played with Ovechkin, but, well, still.
Defenceman Mike Green (who?) has 53 points in 80 games for the Caps. This is the same guy who put up 12 points (2 goals and 10 assists) in 70 games for Washington last season. Who does he think he is, Bryan McCabe?
And while everyone in Montreal is singing the praises of Carey Price, Cristobal Huet is doing pretty good for himself down in the American capital. In 11 games since being acquired by Washington, Huet is 9-and-2 with a 1.75 goals against average, a tidy .933 save percentage, and two shutouts. Not too freakin' shabby. I think, and hope, the Canadiens end up regretting trading Huet instead of keeping him as insurance for the playoffs.
Hold up. Imagine a Montreal and Washington playoff series in the first round. Wouldn't that be something? Oh my. I don't think Huet would have a problem getting up for that series. And it's not out of the realm of possibilities.
It would be great for the NHL, and for hockey in general, for Ovechkin and his Capitals to make it to the post-season. I've seen both Crosby and Ovechkin live in action on their home ice and, while both make you respect and admire their tremendous skills, after watching Ovechkin work his magic, it's hard leaving the building not having become his fan.