I have to admit, going into game 7 against the defending champs, at their arena, I didn't have a whole lot of faith that the Caps would pull it out. I've simply seen too many game 7s gone wrong in the past couple of years. The most I could hope for was that, for better or for worse, the game would be over by the end of the first period. That way, at least I would be spared a nail-biting heartbreaker and the cardiac arrest that comes with that.
Of course, the Caps being the Caps, the game naturally went into overtime. But then, Joel Ward managed to bury a rebound of a Mike Knuble shot to give the Caps the victory.
Game. Set. Match. The Caps had just won the closest series in NHL history and eliminated the defending Stanley Cup Champions. This Capitals team, under Dale Hunter, maintained enough discipline and composure to stick to their system and never panicked, even managing to kill off a penalty in the last 3 minutes of regulation. It wasn't easy, it was stressful as shit, but in the end, they made it.
We won game 7. In overtime. Against the defending champs. In Boston. That is not an insignificant thing. And as my thoughts turned to potential second-round matchups, I realized something: I'm beginning to believe in this team again.
Flyers? I'm not afraid of them. Ilya Bryzgalov is certainly no Tim Thomas, and given the injuries that have ravaged their D-corps, even that isn't as scary as usual. Sure, they have a lot of firepower up front, but if our guys managed to reduce Boston's top-6 to a non-factor for much of the series (with Carlson and Alzner breaking advanced stats in the process), there was no reason we couldn't do the same to Philly. Jersey? Please. Marty Brodeur is like a million years old, Ovechkin is better than Kovalchuk, and Volchenkov is one of their top D.
And New York, which is the matchup we ended up with. Regular season Eastern Conference champions. Of course, as Caps fans, we're well aware of what that counts for in the playoffs (jack shit). Lundqvist is probably the best goalie left in the East, but we've beaten him twice before, and the dropoff from him to Thomas isn't that huge. If we can beat one, we can beat the other. Girardi? Sure, he's a good defenseman, but he's no Zdeno Chara. And their forwards? Well, they've got depth, and Gaborik/Richards is a potent scoring threat. But our top-end talent can match them. I'm confident. After round 1, I don't think there's a single team left in the East we can't beat if, in the words of Johnny Boychuck (?), "we keep playing the same fuckin' way."
Puck drops for Round 2, Game 1 any time now. Bring it on.