And Now: Blank Screens
I was trying to find Pat Sajak around 6:30 Wednesday night when two fans and acquaintances came up to say hello. Unprompted, they told me Ryan Zimmerman had just extended his hit streak to 31 in the top of the ninth. Good news, I thought. The Nats were coming back to D.C. with all sorts of buzz. National buzz, even.
Well, I'm not sure what happened, but they were wrong. The hit streak ended. Three hours before the Caps' season met the same fate.
And now: emptiness. It hasn't been the best 12 months for D.C. sports, and outside of mid-season MLS weekenders, I'm not sure what I'm supposed to look forward to. Tiger's Tourney? The return of the Kastles? The NBA draft lottery? OTAs? Mystics?
"It was definitely anticlimactic," Bruce Boudreau said after the game. I'll sign up for that group. A few Game 7 thoughts.
After the Penguins scored to go up
5-1 6-1 in the third, a whole bunch of fans stood up. I thought the mass exodus was about to begin. But it never really did. The vast majority of people in red stuck around, to heckle the refs if nothing else. As the end grew near, they got louder, even when what was supposed to be the final Unleash the Fury of the year was preempted for a second dose of Funny Follies.
The ovation started with about 2:02 on the clock, and it was a good one, considering the circumstances. More than anything else, that ovation--a small thank-you for six months of good cheer--is what I'll take away from Game 7.
Though I'll admit that one thing annoyed me. Horn Guy, one of the real old-timers, the types who I could always find slogging through the fall of '06, began Breh Breeh Breeehing. "Let's Go Caps!" everyone shouted. It should have been touching, except some other horn guy with a deeper and honkier sounding horn kept joining in. Maybe they're friends, I don't know, but for the final two-minute ovation of the season, I wanted OG Horn Guy, by himself, doing his thing.
No more tightly clenched faces filled with grim hockey seriousness. Just as the Caps let themselves smile after beating the Rangers, some of those chains of first-to-four were temporarily discarded after the game. And so, an hour or two after it was over, Matt Cooke and Sergei Fedorov shared a laugh outside the family lounge. Alex Ovechkin and Sergei Gonchar had their clear-the-ear conversation on the ice, which ended with an embrace. And Kris Letang put his head on a swivel when Lindsay Czarniak walked by, ogled her halfway down the hallway, and then made like he was going to follow her into the media room as onlookers applauded his decision. Ah, sports.
I don't know, at this point maybe you don't actually want to hear about Beagle's Dog Pound, Unleash on Fleury, an after-the-fact David Steckel Ohio State sweater or a sweet Czarlamov number.
All in all, though, I think a 6-2 decision was somehow less tragic, in a second-round-rivalry-series-sports-tragedy kind of way. There wasn't one point when your stomach bottomed out, one 10-second realization that said, 'wait a second, is it over?" More like a slow two-hour slide in that direction, peppered with hot dog rolls filled with nothing but relish. Or maybe that was just me, on the relish thing.
"I don't know, we had more time to think about it before the end of the game," Boudreau said. "It certainly wasn't the way that I would have envisioned scripting it. Whether we won or loss, I never would have thought it would have ended up in a game like we had tonight."
Varlamov was the last guy on the ice, skating around and clapping toward the fans, who clapped back. He also continued to deliver for the media; asked about the decision to yank him, he said this: "I did not have my game tonight. And at that point we were down 4-0, and coach's decision was absolutely right."
I think possibly there will be Varly quotes in this space next year. And for a few more years. Unless our company goes defunct.
No, not the future of the newspaper industry.
"We're very close to being a very good team," Boudreau said. "And maybe all it is is a little bit more maturity in some areas, and I think we'll be able to make that step. I believe next year that if you were asking me right now, we'd be very disappointed if we weren't in the final four."
It might have been a slow descent into emptiness, but a whole bunch of the players did the emptiness thing very well, slow or not.
"I've never really seen anything like this and I've never been a part of anything like this," Brian Pothier said. "Every time we touched the puck, it seemed to explode. Every time they touched it, it was a goal. It was just crazy. You have these nights during the season, during the regular season, but I've never really experienced it in Game 7 of such an emotional playoff series."
"I don't think we could have come out any flatter, and they took it to us, they got a lucky bounce on the first goal and then it was just kind of mayhem from there," Tom Poti said. "No way to describe it. No excuses."
Which brings us back to Pat Sajak. After I was misled about Zimmerman, I finally found Sajak, down by the glass. I explained to him my problem--I needed to file something for page 2 of the sports section in Thursday's papers, but I needed to send it by 7. It thus couldn't really be about the game. I needed him to help provide a quote for the losing team, whichever that team was. And Pat Sajak has plenty of experience counseling people who have lost.
"Boy, that's tough," Sajak told me. "On the show, we try to tell them that 10 years from now, their friends aren't going to say, 'How much did you win?' But they'll ask what was the experience like. I'm sure this would be little consolation to the players, but I would say to them that they have participated in one of the most memorable experiences of playoff hockey, that it's something people will remember for years."
W or L notwithstanding.
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