As the second overtime period began on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden, I couldn’t help but believe that the Washington Capitals would find some way to win. After the disastrous second period, I never felt like the Caps were out of it and following the glorious third period, I felt as if momentum was on their side. The only real surprise was the unlikely hero.
Jason Chimera is often overlooked on this Capitals roster full of star players. Heck, even Nicklas Backstrom is often lost in the long, dark shadow cast by Alex Ovechkin, even though he is one of the best play-making centers in the game today. Chimera just goes about his business, giving you his heart and soul on every shift with his toughness and deceptively fast and powerful strides. It was the toughness that led to his moment of glory.
As the overtime minutes wore on, Comcast Sportsnet’s Joe Beninati quipped that it would be a skater that decided this one. The graceful and smooth skaters tend to have the ability to skate longer and faster with less effort. Immediately, my mind conjured up the face of Alexander Semin, who is having a fantastic playoff series thus far after being made one of the goats in last year’s collapse to the Montreal Canadiens. Last night, Sasha was all over the ice, battling for loose pucks in front of the net, and I thought it would be his night to shine. Of course, you can always count on Ovechkin, Backstrom and the oft-overtime-hero Mike Green.
As the overtime period dragged on, it was clear that everyone on the ice was dog tired… except the line of Chimera, Johansson and Fehr. Every time they came out on the ice, it seemed as though they were just a step quicker. From my couch, it seemed as though Coach Bruce Boudreau noticed as well, as it appeared that those three were on the ice more than any other line in the minutes leading up to the game winner.
And the game winner was text book play-off game winner and text book Chimera. The 6’2” left winger used his speed to skate into the zone over the left circle and fired a shot on net. New York Rangers’ defenseman Dan Girardi got a stick on it (doesn’t he always seem to get a piece of every shot while he is on the ice??) and the shot trickled on net. Just as Henrik Lunquist dove to cover the puck and freeze the play, Marian Gaborik poked at it with his stick trying to clear. Instead of another Lunquist save, the puck flittered into the air, hit Chimera — who had in the meantime drove to the front of the net – square in the chest and dropped down into the crease. With nothing by red paint between the puck and the win, Chimera drove it home from point blank and cemented the victory.
As a fan that grew up watching this franchise in the 80s, I can remember my fair share of Capital-sized collapses. I’ve had my heart ripped out by the Islanders and Penguins, and always stuck behind the team. I lamented the fact that if the Capitals could just get someone to pick up the scoring slack from the defensive focus being placed on Mike Gartner or Dave Christianson or Dino Ciccerelli, the Caps might just win it all.
Because of that perspective, I refuse to even contemplate playing for Lord Stanley’s Cup. I refuse to think about who might be next, or whether I’d want to face the Penguins or the Canadiens in round 2. Heck, I won’t even think about finishing off the Rangers in game 5 and avoiding yet another 7-game series. I will, however, rejoice in the fact that for the first time I can remember, I don’t feel like one guy has to score the goal if we are going to win.
And that, my friends, is something worth rejoicing.