23 April, 2014

Years Hence, Thousands Who Weren't There Will Say They Were

Cup'pa JoeTo state the obvious, keep your ticket stub. Get the footage burned onto a disc and permanently stored. If Versus offers a replay, record that too, just as a backup. And clip the Tuesday newspapers of all their morning glory. Then, henceforth, set aside each May 4 for a replay of the game in your home, with a few cold ones.

There’s special NHL playoff hockey and then there’s what transpired on the ice sheet last night in Chinatown. This was historic. I inquired as far and as wide and of the most veteran and knowledgeable scribes I could in the post-game last night: when was the last time the two very best players in hockey squared off in a playoff game and both scored hat tricks?

Their collective answer: “Never.”

Tiger never got to square off against a 28-year-old Nicklaus, at Pebble Beach, in the 4th round of an Open. And even if they had, it’s highly unlikely they’d both have shot 65s. We saw this very equivalent last night in Washington’s hockey rink.

It seems odd to think of a Chinatown not only as a hockey haven but one where hockey history takes place, but ours, now, is. And I’ll wager that the screaming Sea of Red remains in place for the duration of Alexander Ovechkin’s career as a Cap. Largely because of last night.

I kept detailed notes on all the action through the first 50 minutes of play Monday night, recording ebbs and flows and surges and such, and then that set-play-on-the-power-play pulverizer struck, freaking out the arena of course, and then, less than three minutes later, the Gr8 somehow topped his already earned second key to the city heroics, authoring follow-on frenzy, and I fell back in my press box chair and instantly realized that game 2 between the Capitals and Penguins on May 4, 2009, was about one overwhelming statistic (two hat tricks by two studs) and one stud’s heroics bettering — for one night — the other’s. All other statistics be damned.

The game was also this: one of the best and most significant sporting events in our city’s history.

Don’t quibble about its being in round two versus say the conference finals, or a game 2 instead of a game 7. Its being us versus them, our hero versus him, with all the rest of hockey stopping what they were doing tonight to watch, made it a mega-event — one that far exceeded the hype.  

It’s so important to realize that the Pittsburgh Penguins’ defense didn’t fail, that Sergei Gonchar played Ovechkin perfectly, that their elite goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury didn’t come up short on either strike. Instead, the Pens were beaten by a growing legend’s indefensible virtuosity. A virtuosity the likes of which this league has never seen.

Call him the Gr8. Call him Mr. Third Period. But now, this morning, also call him one of the greatest and most important professional athletes in Washington’s sports history. Not because I said so, but because he did what he did last night against them. And him.

The Gr8 was asked afterward what he thought he’d have thought of this game had he viewed it as a fan.

“Sick game,” he generationally replied, “Sick game.”

“It’s unbelievable when we play against great players and you win the game like this,” he added.

Some outstanding, concurrent feats in sports are coincidental whether we think they are or not, but these two hat tricks by these two greats in a high-stakes showdown just didn’t feel like coincidence. They were the first postseason hat tricks for both. Alex scored as Alex scores — stylishly and dynamically — but Sidney sets up more often than he lights the lamp. That, too, made this night so special.   

These teams are so evenly matched, which is so refreshing in this rivalry, and this welcomed development necessarily elevates the Monday night heroics of our hero. I remain convinced that this series is destined for lengthy greatness, and should I be right the NHL would do well to package it up on a couple of discs this offseason and market it aggressively to sports fans who’ve never encountered hockey before. Could anyone be indifferent to our sport should this series deliver seven grand games, and should one view it in its sumptuous totality? 

Walking down 7th Street toward Metro near midnight last night I couldn’t help but wonder what one Don Cherry must have thought of Monday night’s magic. I hope he enjoyed it like the rest of us did.

A daunting and devastating reality is settling in not only on these talented Penguins but the rest of hockey: there is an abundance of great players with great skill in our game today, but only one player, ours, can be defended perfectly time after time, flick his wrists, and tear your heart out. And from the looks of things, he’s got a good decade or more ahead of doing it.

“Alex knows that his place in history will only come with winning the Stanley Cup,” Capitals owner Ted Leonsis said last night. “We’ve had that conversation.”


  1. Flying Cloud wrote:

    It was lovely, but my nails are bitten down to the quick. A great victory, another spoilt manicure. Such is the price of victory. I was also happy to see my hero, Mr. Fedorov, surpass Mario Lemeiux for all time points in playoffs. He made a lovely pass on Ovie’s first goal.

    5 May, 2009 at 8:04 am | Permalink
  2. Hatless wrote:

    Check out ESPN: http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/recap?gameId=290504023
    They have a great video which at the end compares the stack of hats for Ovechin with the ONE for Crosby.
    Also, they mention
    Opposing Players With Hat Tricks in the Same Game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs (granted it’s not the two best in the sport)
    2009 – Crosby, Pit / Ovechkin, Wsh
    1996 – Linden, Van / Sakic, Col
    1993 – Ferraro, NYI / Iafrate, Wsh
    1983 – P. Reinhart, Cgy / Messier, Edm

    5 May, 2009 at 8:28 am | Permalink
  3. Penguin Pete wrote:

    Great article…
    Is it tough for DC to admit a hockey player is one of it’s greatest?
    In the ‘Burgh, a football town, they still want to call Terry Bradshaw or (insert any 70′s Stiller here) the greatest athlete the city has ever seen, choosing to overlook #66.
    Just wondering what the case may be in DC…

    5 May, 2009 at 8:47 am | Permalink
  4. pucksandbooks wrote:

    Penguin Pete,
    You ask a great question. The cold hard reality is that this is Redskin Country, and while Pittsburgh has a healthy balance of affinity for its pro sports teams covered by the local media(excepting, understandably, the Bucs), the media here has spent decades giving the Caps the cold shoulder while profiting as a one-trick Burgundy and Gold pony. Ovechkin, however, is beginning to force hockey onto the front pages and broadcast leads. No small feat, that.

    5 May, 2009 at 9:22 am | Permalink
  5. DCPensFan wrote:

    I’ve never seen Verizon Center like did last night. It was rock concert loud in there.
    But this is good. For the past couple of years I’ve been indifferent to the Caps. They have players that are hard to dislike. I guess I must have boxed up my old division hatred for them. Time to unpack.
    Despite the outcome last night, I had a great time. And even though there were vastly fewer number of Pens fans, which at first was odd, it felt more apporpriate.
    Please let this series go 7. The hockey is too good — and i don’t think it would be an accurate assessment — for it to end in anything less.

    5 May, 2009 at 11:25 am | Permalink
  6. pucksandbooks wrote:

    Thank you, DCPENSFAN, for leaving us one of the more impressive bits of reflection we’ve encountered by an “opposition” fan, ever. It may just be the case that this series is so good in so many respects that it’s fostering an “above the fray” sensibility among some of sports’ fiercest rival fanbases. And although my hair doesn’t need the additional grey, I couldn’t agree with you more about the series deserving seven games, one just like the first two.

    5 May, 2009 at 12:07 pm | Permalink
  7. Nonlinear wrote:

    “Don’t quibble about its being in round two versus say the conference finals, or a game 2 instead of a game 7.”
    Well, I hate to quibble, but I’ve got my Game 7 ticket stub from last week and I’ll just beg to differ.
    It’s a Game 2. It’s a Conference Semifinal. You just can’t call it historic. 2 or 3 years from now, when we’ve hoisted a cup (Could even be this year, if we get a little lucky) people just won’t remember this game in the same light.
    Don’t get me wrong, that game was amazing.
    But it’s a bit like people trying to call the Bulls-Celtics one of the best NBA playoff series one of the best ever. The context matters.

    5 May, 2009 at 12:39 pm | Permalink
  8. hackhamster wrote:

    I don’t know if this game will be historic, but I know if the NHL still had a contract with a real network it would have been an Instant Classic.
    I do know that images from the last two series are going to remain imprinted on my mind’s eye for a long time. You know how you can remember where you were and what you were doing when you witness an historic event? My short list:
    * 1978?: I have no idea why I remember this one: ABC’s Wide World of Sports, with Earnie Shavers on fighting some palooka in prison.
    * 1980: the Miracle on Ice, winter in Minnesota, watching it on an old B/W tv in the basement with my pop.
    * 1988: Driving from Buffalo to DC, listening to Darryl Green’s punt return in Chicago for a TD, on a crappy AM station out of Pittsburgh.
    * 1990: Basic Training, Ft Sill OK, drinking 3:2 beer and watching LSU vs Loyola Marymount on ESPN, Shaq and Chris Jackson vs Hank Gaithers and Bo Kimble, LSU winning by 148-141 in OT.
    * 1990: Again, Basic Training, Buster Douglas pummeling Mike Tyson in Tokyo.
    * 1998: Again with that AM radio on a drive from Syracuse to DC, listening to Joe Juneau’s OT goal vs the Sabres to put us into the Finals.
    Funny thing is, there’s not much to remember the last several years. I have no idea why *cough* dansnyder *cough*.
    Oh crap, forgot The Goal, the Stick on Fire, the 4-goals and face-full of stitches, and the Caps making the playoffs on the last day of the season in 2008! But there has certainly been a dearth of things not-of-Ovie.
    Anyways, not being fortunate enough to have tickets to the games, the following occurred with me standing/jumping up and down in my living room, within a foot or so of my TV:
    * Ovie smoking the Ranger’s D and scoring while being tackled.
    * Varly reaching back and saving Crosby’s shot on an open goal.
    * Ovie screaming and hitting the glass after his hat-trick.
    Is this what it’s like to be a fan of a GOOD team with a star??? You mean we get to see this kind of stuff ALL THE TIME? I get this feeling we are witness to the NHL’s equivalent of Jordan’s Bulls of the 90′s, not to mention Gretzky’s Oilers of the 80′s. And as for last night, this might not have been the most historic of games, or the most significant, but it damn sure felt fantastic, and unlike many things in the DC sport’s scene that are flashes in the pan, or fade away much to quickly, this only promises to get better. And I’m going to remember this one forever.

    5 May, 2009 at 2:07 pm | Permalink
  9. Blackaces wrote:

    Hey everyone,
    Do you think the Southeast division will get a little more respect from folks around the league now? Everyone always crapped on the S.E. for being unworthy of reaching the playoffs. Well, look at it now. Fingers crossed, the Caps and the ‘Canes could very well meet in the Eastern Conference finals.
    Atlanta could very well be on its way up. Tampa has some superstars and Florida was right there until the end.
    These are exciting times for the Southeast!

    5 May, 2009 at 2:45 pm | Permalink
  10. hackhamster wrote:

    Well, since you can make numbers mean what you want them to mean, the SE has won the Cup in 2 of the last 4 seasons. The Caps are contending, so are the Canes, the Panthers are ok , but Tampa may be on the verge of blowing themselves up and Atlanta has nowhere to go but up. Only a hater could think that the SE is somehow inferior to all the other divisions in the NHL.

    5 May, 2009 at 3:57 pm | Permalink
  11. pucksandbooks wrote:

    No Blackaces, I think the old Patrick division will get even more respect now.

    5 May, 2009 at 3:59 pm | Permalink
  12. Paul wrote:

    Incredible? Absolutely. Historic? Mehh, not so fast. Put it in the same category perhaps as the 4-OT loss to the Isles early Easter Sunday in 1987. Memorable to those of us who saw it but not much to people who did not have direct stake in the game or its outcome.
    Best of game going head-to-head at their very best? Best I can think of is Watson shooting 65-66 against Nicklaus’s 66-66 on last weekend of British Open at Turnberry when both were at the top of their game.
    Too bad this game wasn’t in the Finals instead of G2 of the quarters.

    5 May, 2009 at 4:04 pm | Permalink
  13. pepper wrote:

    I totally get that a lengthy series would be fantastic for the non-partial and recent converts to the church of hockey, but after last night, only in my nightmares does this series now go seven games.
    There is A LOT of history between the two clubs, and it may not be lodged in the hearts and minds of the players or coaches or media, but I remember it acutely, and I’m sure much of Capsland does as well.
    Lengthy greatness be damned. I WANT FOUR GAMES.

    5 May, 2009 at 5:10 pm | Permalink
  14. pucksandbooks wrote:

    Yeah well I want the Girls Next Door in a beachhouse to myself, Pepper. I guess a fella can dream.

    6 May, 2009 at 7:44 am | Permalink