To say that I was nervous from the beginning of this hockey game would be a bit of an understatement.
First, a little back-story. One of my three roommates has connections, really, really, REALLY good connections. Such good connections that last Friday he called up his connections, requested four tickets to the Washington Capitals game on Tuesday against the Boston Bruins and they delivered. How good are these connections, well, see for yourself…
We drove into Washington (somehow, have you ever tried to drive into Washington at 5:30 – 6:00?) parked underneath the Verizon Center (remember: connections) and settled into our seats in section 110.
I haven’t seen my Bruins live since a game in Los Angeles back in January so of course I was excited to see my boys in action again. I have been cautiously optimistic about this season. Sure, this is a team that came within one game of the Eastern Conference Finals last season, is two years removed from being the number one seed in the Eastern Conference and added pieces such as Nathan Horton that they desperately needed. Still, last season is still fresh in my mind. They still seem to suffer injury problems, they struggled to stay afloat in the regular season, and, of course, there was that Game 7 Double Choke Supreme last year. Hence, the cautious optimism.
The game didn’t start off the way I would have liked. In fact, the game started in a way that made me think this was going to be one of those 5-0 Capitals wins where the fans don’t shut up and act like they knew what a hockey stick was BAO (Before Alex Ovechkin). Mark Stuart turned the puck over in the defensive zone where it was picked off by Ovechkin. It was one of those classic “The Bruins aren’t thinking tonight” plays that have made me go crazy over the years. My nervousness level sky-rocketed. I whispered “oh shit” to myself. The Verizon Center crowd rose to their feet, ready to explode after an early goal and Ovechkin couldn’t handle the puck. He failed to finish and then everything seemed to start going the Bruins way. It was evident tonight felt like a big game for the Bruins. They were more physical than the Capitals, almost as if they wanted to say “The Eastern Conference goes through us again”. Their physical play resulted in a center ice turnover picked off by Milan Lucic, who fired one off the boards to Nathan Horton who hit David Krejci for the silky smooth goal.
And there was the sound I had waited all day to hear. Little pockets of Bruins fans cheering, and everyone else silent. I love that lack of noise. I love traveling to another teams arena as a fan of the visiting team. I love when your team goes on a little run or scores a big goal and you’re one of the few people who stands up and cheers. You high-five complete strangers around you just because they share the same shirt as you and you watch as all the other fans in the arena stay silent. One of my favorite moments in sports.
The rest of the game can be pretty much summed up like this. The Bruins wanted it more than the Capitals did. They skated harder than the Capitals, they were more physical than the Capitals and they made smarter plays than the Capitals did. It also helped that Bruins goalie Tim Thomas stood on his head all day and that the Bruins defense smothered the Capitals high-powered offense.
There were three swings when I was pretty sure the game was over. The first one was when the Bruins killed off a (terrible) slashing call on Zdeno Chara at the beginning of the third period with the crowd back into the game when the score was 2-1. The second one was when the crowd went silent after Matt Hunwick’s goal a minute later in the third period. The third moment was when Milan Lucic secured his Gordie Howe hat trick by beating John Eriskine in a fight mid-way through the third. Eriskine was getting beat hit so hard, he did one of those boxing style hugs where he basically just wanted Lucic to stop punching him. When Milan went back to the bench after getting out of the box, Milan was greeted to high fives and congrats from his teammates. When Eriskine got back to his bench, he sat down and was greeted to the crowd fleeing for the exits. It was over. Even Ovi tried to throw the puck into the net, that’s how desperate the Capitals were.
It may not look like much, but this win could mean something for the long run of the season. Sure, it’s just the fourth game of the season and there are still 77 more games to go. But this was an early statement. The Bruins came out and may have set the tone for the rest of the season. Their physicality did not work well with the Capitals and it was the reason they won the game. We will know a lot more on Thursday. If the Bruins come out and dominate physically in their home opener against the same Capitals, watch out. These Bruins might just be for real this season and could roll through the Eastern Conference.