Alex Ovechkin helped the Caps to within one win of the second round of the playoffs. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)
Dear 2007-08 Edition Of The Washington Capitals,
This might be the toughest breakup letter I’ve ever written. But my affections for you and the way you’ve played the game were on the verge of rising to bunny-boiling heights, so in a way, I guess it’s a good thing the officials put the screws to you in Game 7 of your first round series against Philadelphia.
For me, the chemistry between us began prior to the start of the regular season, when I went out on a limb and picked you to come out of nowhere and win the NHL’s Southeast Division. A lot of folks snickered when I wrote:
“(C)oach Glen Hanlon may not survive the season if Washington stumbles out of the gate as it tries to make all the new faces (including potential Calder Trophy candidate Nicklas Backstrom) fit in. Call it a hunch, but I bet they’ll gel into one of the league's swiftest, most offensively dangerous teams rather quickly, and drop many a jaw in the process.”
But I didn’t care how loud they laughed. Sure, my devotion wavered a smidgen when you started the season like the hockey equivalent of Amy Winehouse on a tour of European distilleries, but I secretly hoped and believed you’d come around and straighten out your act.
After you did – after canning Hanlon in late November and bringing in the wonderfully self-effacing Bruce Boudreau to replace him behind your bench – I could sense something special was beginning to brew. However, being the committed jinxophobe I am, I didn’t want to call much attention to you.
That all changed when GM George McPhee went out at the trade deadline and brought in Sergei Fedorov (another personal favorite of mine), Cristobal Huet and Matt Cooke to join what at the time seemed to be Mission Impossible: securing a playoff berth after a 6-14-1 start to the season.
From that point on, I knew you were serious about trying to make this relationship work. I could tell you were ignoring the snide naysayers and the virtually insurmountable odds and instead cared only about proving yourself by winning the next game on the schedule.
Lo and behold, you were no longer low in the standings and (be)held up as punch-line fodder as the regular season wound down. There were still those who doubted you could make the playoffs, but Boudreau had clearly convinced you that, like Dolly Parton sang in Islands In The Stream, this could be the year for the real thing.
When you finally clinched the division and a spot in the post-season during Game No. 82, I man-swooned in as heterosexual a manner as possible, because I knew millions of other NHL fans would soon see what I’d seen all along.
I knew they’d see Alex Ovechkin and realize why there was no arguing against him being named the league’s MVP. I knew they’d watch Nicklas Backstrom and understand why I voted for him and not Patrick Kane or Jonathan Toews as the rookie of the year. I knew they’d get a load of youngsters Alexander Semin and Mike Green and know you weren’t going to be a one-season wonder.
Then the playoffs began, and if there were any doubts about my feelings for you, they were erased by the end of Game 1, which you won by storming back from a two-goal deficit in the third period.
Things got even better after that. People began to appreciate the contributions of guys like Brooks Laich and Eric Fehr and Boyd Gordon and Matt Bradley and David Steckel, and the media jumped on your bandwagon as if there were an endless supply of doughy, food-ish substances aboard.
Hell, I even discovered Pat Sajak – yes, that Pat Sajak – had been seduced by your talents and was an unabashed devotee of the team. With a win in Game 7, Chuck Woolery and Wink Martindale probably would’ve been next to pledge their allegiance; unfortunately, thanks to the aforementioned screw job by the officials, it wasn’t meant to be.
Again, it was probably a good thing you went out when you did. If you’d have made it much further into the post-season, I might’ve dropped to one knee and proposed marriage (not to worry, Ted Leonsis – I would’ve gladly signed any pre-nup you put on the table).
That brings us to this point, otherwise known as the bitter end. It hurts the deepest, most tender cockle of my heart to know you missed a golden chance to continue the dream and take on Sidney Crosby’s Penguins in what would’ve been the most highly anticipated second round matchup in league history.
But I can’t be mad at you. You gave me so much joy and so many highlights this year, it just wouldn’t be right to selfishly ask for more and more and more.
Can we try and work things out next season? Damn right we can. There’s no reason I’m aware of that you can’t build on your successes of this year and woo me again nine or 10 months from now.
Until then, I’ll be waiting and anticipating. Don’t let me down!
With lots of bromance-like love,
Adam Proteau is The Hockey News' online columnist and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his Ask Adam feature appears Tuesdays and Fridays, and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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