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And Now: Blank Screens

Ovie acknowledges the crowd. (Reuters)

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.

The Ovation

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.

The Relief

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.

The Fans

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."

The Varly

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.

The Future

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."

The Despair

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."

The Advice

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.

By Dan Steinberg  |  May 14, 2009; 12:39 AM ET
Categories:  Caps  
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Next: Fan Questions About Game 7


Steinz, thanks once again for all your great work during the playoffs. Come see us out at Nats Park this summer.

Dave and Cheryl

Posted by: bottomfeeders10 | May 14, 2009 1:22 AM | Report abuse

Cute article Dan.

But really, Pat Sajak? He spends most of the time at games on his blackberry while yelling at people around him to sit down. He is a Poser. Why don't you interview real Caps fans....those who have sat, cheered, and endured the pleasure and the pain for decades.

Really, I am amazed, one of the greatest series in hockey history and the best you can give us is a friggin quote from Pat Sajak?

Posted by: eyechip | May 14, 2009 2:11 AM | Report abuse

Good series, Caps fans.

Bring in 1 or 2 solid D-men, get some of your players to play better two-way hockey, and I definitely do not want to see my Penguins play the Caps next year.

Good Luck.

Posted by: KellyBuchbergersHelmet | May 14, 2009 6:26 AM | Report abuse

It would be nice if you wrote less about writing this blog.

Posted by: Semvechkin | May 14, 2009 8:01 AM | Report abuse

Where am I supposed to Unleash the Fury now? At Nationals Park? Comcast Center? The Captial? 930 Club? Into my girlfriend? Where, I ask, where?

Posted by: fushezzi | May 14, 2009 8:07 AM | Report abuse

fushezzi: You could always come out to DC United games. There's plenty of Fury to be unleashed at the tailgates and matches at RFK.
I know it's only about 1/3 of the way through the season but United is on top of the western conference. The team has been much better this year. Come one out. You too Dan. The only thing more boring than watching baseball is reading about it.

You know the black and red have more fun!
Sorry Caps. Better luck next year.

Posted by: DadRyan | May 14, 2009 8:18 AM | Report abuse

I'm over 40 and 98% of the live hockey I've ever watched was in the last 3 weeks. Thanks for a fun run Caps!

Posted by: rdpinva | May 14, 2009 8:54 AM | Report abuse

"After the Penguins scored to go up 5-1 in the third, a whole bunch of fans stood up."

I swear I saw the score as 5-0 at some point during the game. Either you are wrong, or I'm misremembering a la Pettitte.

Posted by: mateo_md | May 14, 2009 9:03 AM | Report abuse

ugh, now i have to suffer through the nationals and the redskins until next hockey season. thus is the life of a dc sports fan.

Posted by: grizneta | May 14, 2009 9:24 AM | Report abuse

Speaking of ovations, I thought it was classy of the SFO fans to give Zimmerman a standing O as his streak ended. Some of them also booed when he was intentionally walked earlier in the game. Hope that Nats fans will welcome him with a nice ovation upon the team's return to DC.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | May 14, 2009 9:56 AM | Report abuse

Fury is always welcomed at Camden Yards.

Posted by: StetSportsBlog | May 14, 2009 10:02 AM | Report abuse

Keep Kris Letang away from our Lindsay Czarniak. Unless he want to come to DC and play for the Caps :)

Posted by: madflava | May 14, 2009 10:32 AM | Report abuse

Thanks, Dan, for making an incredibly fun Caps season even more fun with all your Caps blogging.

By the way, you mentioned the lack of "Unleash the Fury" last night. Why was that? Who makes that decision and why? Sure, no one was really in the mood to go crazy--but I think most fans would have at least joined in with some cheering in the spirit of "Hey, it's the final time for this year"--like the ovation at the end of the game.

Posted by: TheFingerman | May 14, 2009 10:50 AM | Report abuse

my bad

Posted by: epostell | May 14, 2009 12:11 PM | Report abuse

Ditto. Sorry about the bad info on Zimmerman. I blame Postell for that one.

Posted by: Barno1 | May 14, 2009 12:17 PM | Report abuse

Well, it's nice to see that some people have such disposable income as to buy a jersey that says "Czarlamov" (never liked that name) or buy a little kid a "Varly" jersey. Maybe some places ARE recession proof.

Posted by: Randy_Hawkins | May 14, 2009 12:48 PM | Report abuse

If there's any consolation to last night it's that there aren't any "what if" moments.

The "OG Horn Guy" is named Sam. He's one of the founders and powers-that-be of the Caps Road Crew that organizes road trips to see the Caps play. I was part of one CRC trip to Tampa that had about 40 of us down there to see Greenie set the NHL record with goals in eight consecutive games.

And like others have done, I offer you my compliments, Steinz, on some very solid journalism over the course of the past season.

Posted by: greggwiggins | May 14, 2009 2:02 PM | Report abuse

It was the final act. Although the outcome had long since been determined, there was one thing left undone. The applause was no longer an effort to spur the team on to victory. There would be no unleashing of the fury this time. This applause was to simply say thank you. And it was most heartfelt. Thank you for a season filled with so many brilliant memories. The enthusiasm. The tenacity. The selflessness.

For in this moment, we cannot dwell on this loss as a singular failure. Rather, we remember all the moments that brought us out of our seats. And we stand one final time. To applaud our team. And this does not seem to be lost on you. Before you leave the ice, you gather together and raise your sticks to us. It is a simple gesture. But one that brought tears to my eyes. Until we meet again.

Posted by: CFF8 | May 14, 2009 2:04 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, but the Caps deserved no applause for last night. They didn't show up to play for a friggin game seven. No guts, no character, no desire. Losing is one thing; not competing is another. It was such a no show that I'm starting to question all the happy talk about the Caps bright future.

Posted by: poguesmahone | May 14, 2009 3:02 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: madflava

Keep Kris Letang away from our Lindsay Czarniak.


Agreed. I think she and Brooksie would make a great couple.

Posted by: pstenigma | May 14, 2009 4:01 PM | Report abuse

Poguesmahone: your negativity is not welcome as a Caps fan. Turn in your fan card to Ted Leonsis immediately.

Posted by: Randy_Hawkins | May 14, 2009 4:59 PM | Report abuse

If there's any consolation to last night it's that there aren't any "what if" moments

Posted by: greggwiggins | May 14, 2009 2:02 PM | Report abuse

What if Ovi doesn't blow that breakaway in the first period of a scoreless game? Hockey is all about momentum. Being up 1-0 could have easily changed the game (not to mention 73% of teams that score first win.

Posted by: Barno1 | May 14, 2009 5:17 PM | Report abuse

C'mon DadRyan, we aren't the NJ Taurines. United is leading the eastern conference not the western conference.

poguesmahone, the applause wasn't just for the final Game 7. It was for the season.

Posted by: sitruc | May 15, 2009 10:09 AM | Report abuse

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