When you endure year after year of crushing playoff disappointment, it's easy to forget those times when it has actually been pleasurable to be a Washington Capitals fan. Even in the depths of the summer, I often find myself eying that bright red jersey tucked away in the closet and thinking about all the beer and condiments I spilled on it celebrating a howitzer from the point that found its way to the twine. I'm definitely never going to wash it. The secret ingredient in that mustard is MEMORIES.
Yes, as painful as these last seven years have been, we should at least be thankful that Alex Ovechkin and company have put hockey back on the map in Washington. Oh sure, the 1998 team was technically more successful, making it two rounds deeper in the playoffs than this team has ever been, but they lacked a certain je ne sais quoi. That, and those blue uniforms were ugly and terrible.
So, today we are faced with a lockout of indefinite length and a history of five years of playoff ineptitude. But let's forget all that for a moment and take a look back to a time when the jerseys were brighter, Ovi was hairier, the coaches were screamier, and the goals flowed like wine.
It took all of 27 minutes and 21 seconds into his NHL career for Alexander Ovechkin to score in a game. He notched two goals in the 3-2 win in the season opener against Columbus on Oct. 5, 2005. And it was a trademark Ovi shot: a one-timer blasted past the goalie.
Not even those stupid black jerseys could take away from the moment.
After getting into a shoving match with Kris Letang on Oct. 13, 2011, Capitals forward Jay Beagle decided for some reason to get into a fight with Penguins goon Arron Asham. Asham, not surprisingly, felled Beagle with one well-placed punch and showed just what a fantastic guy he is by making the "go to sleep" gesture on his way to the penalty box.
A month and a half later, it was time to pay the piper. And pay the piper he did.
Sometimes, Ovechkin does something so brilliant and creative on the ice you wonder how on earth he doesn't score 300 goals a year. This was one of those moments, during a 2008-09 season that was full of them.
Most fans hate the Philadelphia Flyers. I am no exception.
So it was a true pleasure to watch the Capitals play the Flyers on Dec. 5, 2009. It was Peter Laviolette's coaching debut, and we all watched as the Flyers screwed themselves over by doing something so brazenly dirty and so ... Philly-esque.
In the video, noted dirtbag Daniel Carcillo sucker-punches Matt Bradley after receiving a mild and completely clean check. The end result is a power play that lasted forever and a Capitals offense that was forever grateful to Mr. Carcillo, banging home eight goals as thousands of people decked out in orange were forced to watch the train wreck.
It was schadenfreude at its finest.
It took until the 2009-10 season, but finally, Ovechkin proved he could score with one hand tied behind his back.
This may have been the high watermark of the Ovechkin era.
The offense piled on six goals, including a frenetic four-goal third period that put the Caps up three games to one in the series before sending it back to the Verizon Center.
The Capitals were a seemingly unstoppable juggernaut at that point, coming off their dominant President's Trophy season, and having all the appearance of a team that would steamroll into the Finals. Finally, this was their year.
Let's just forget about what happened over the next three games, shall we?
In the 2008-09 season, Ovi finally made it to 50 goals.
For the third time, that is.
He celebrated with the "stick on fire" routine, causing hand-wringing columnists everywhere—particularly north of the border and even more particularly those wearing hideous multi-colored jackets—to soil their pantaloons over such exuberance.
Hopefully, next time Ovi will learn his lesson—and will instead douse the stick with gasoline and literally light it on fire.
Oh, Nick Backstrom. How soon we forget about you, and then you do such a totally awesome things as this.
See? That second-round loss to the Rangers wasn't all bad.
You could have cut the tension leading up to this game with a knife. Just a week before the Winter Classic on Dec. 23, 2010, the Caps took on the Penguins at the Verizon Center with the HBO cameras rolling. Just minutes into the game, Ovechkin lit up Evgeni Malkin and set the tone for one of the most intense games the team has ever played.
One good thing to come out of the 2012 playoffs was Braden Holtby.
After years of musical chairs at the goalie position, Holtby's performance against two of the top offenses in the league in the Bruins and Rangers gives Capitals fans a reason to hope that their goalie woes are finally over.
Nothing encapsulated Holtby's performance better than the save against Milan Lucic in Game 4 of the Bruins series.
Much like the beginning of his career, it didn't take long for Ovechkin to score his first playoff goal, once the Caps actually made the second season.
In overtime of Game 1 against the Philadelphia Flyers, Ovi took advantage of a miscue and buried it. Since then, he has been one of the highest scoring players in the playoffs of all time.
Although don't ever try to tell Don Cherry that.
I still can't figure out how Semyon Varlamov kept Crosby from scoring on this play, but he did. Caps fans won't soon forget this series, and this is one of the reasons why.
It had been a tough 2010-11 season for the Caps. After starting out well, things went to crap and the team lost eight games in a row. The recovery was long and hard, but as the playoffs approached, the team was finally hitting its stride.
So when Ovechkin scored in overtime against the Sabres, the dance celebrated more than just a hard-fought win: It celebrated a team that had finally pushed through the adversity.
Sidney Crosby is a great player. I can admit this. People who chant "Crosby sucks" are idiots. And yet, he's also an annoying little turd. Canadian fans who don't even root for his team love to rally around him, chanting things at Ovechkin like "Crosby's better," as Winnipeg Jets fans did not too long ago.
And so it's enjoyable watching Ovi rough him up a little. It's too bad it doesn't happen every time they meet up.
No one has been vilified more than Alexander Semin over the years, chiefly for the crime of "not caring."
So it was enjoyable to watch him scream like a schoolgirl after rocketing the puck past Henrik Lundqvist in overtime of Game 1 of the 2011 playoffs against the Rangers.
Unfortunately, now he's going to have to score his 30 apathetic goals per year with the Hurricanes.
There's just something about the Rangers that brings out the best in Alex. The one-handed goal? Not bad. But it doesn't hold a candle to this little ditty in the 2009 playoffs, a Game 5 blowout that brought the Caps back from the brink of being down three games to one.
Hey, Wayne Gretzky, check THIS out!
After a Game 1 letdown, this was a barn-burner. It may have been the most epic Caps game of all time.
It's hard to choose a favorite moment. Was it Nick Backstrom slamming his fist into the boards in jubilation after banging home his second goal of the game? Was it John Carlson's miracle tying goal with time running out? Was it Nicky's overtime hat trick winner?
Whatever the case, I'm pretty sure that game permanently raised my blood pressure.
The Caps' playoff woes were certainly the driving force behind grabbing Joel Ward from the Nashville Predators. Paying $3 million per year for a guy who tallies less than 20 points per season obviously had everything to do with the winger's playoff magic.
Amazingly, the rather hopeful move actually paid off in Game 7 against the Bruins, after a lackluster regular season from Ward.
Of course, let's not talk about what happened in the next series.
We're getting to the first one. But I'd be remiss not to include this gem against the Penguins in February of 2010. There was something truly magical about that day—a crisp, clear, sunny Super Bowl Sunday afternoon, with several feet of packed snow from the blizzard that had struck the D.C. area that weekend surrounding the Verizon Center.
The Caps were on fire at that point in the 2009-10 season, and with NBC broadcasting the game across the nation, it became the Alex Ovechkin Show.
It was Game 4 of the first round of the 2011 playoffs for the Caps, and things were starting to get ugly.
After going up 2-0 on the Rangers, the Caps dropped Game 3 on the road and all of the sudden found themselves down 3-0 in Game 4 as New York fans serenaded Bruce Boudreau with "Can you hear us?"
With the previous year's shocking defeat to the 8th-seeded Canadiens still fresh in everyone's minds, there is no doubt every Caps fan was sure it was going to be a repeat performance.
Yet suddenly, it was 3-3. The game dragged into the second overtime. And then Jason Chimera landed the knockout blow, both for the game and, really, the Rangers season.
Oh sure, it only counted for two points in the standings. But when you place the intense rivalry of Penguins vs. Capitals (and Crosby vs. Ovechkin) in the middle of Heinz Field with HBO cameras rolling and 68,000 fans screaming their lungs out on New Year's Day, it feels like a little bit more than that.
Malkin opened up the scoring early, but Mike Knuble's power play goal and Eric Fehr's two tallies ruled the day. And what a day it was to be a Caps fan.
The Caps were shell-shocked after finding themselves down three games to one against the 7th-seeded New York Rangers.
But they managed to force a Game 7, and it was Sergei Fedorov, an aging center playing the last year of his career with the Caps after his illustrious days with the Detroit Red Wings, who would score one of the biggest goals in Washington history.
Not a bad way to go out.
It was a wonderful new day after the Caps returned to Verizon Center with a 3-1 series lead following their miracle double-OT win against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
Rangers fans had egg on their face after chanting "Can you hear us?" at Bruce Boudreau, who had suggested prior to the game that MSG was nowhere near as loud as Verizon, and Caps fans were ready to return the favor in a game that felt more like a victory lap than anything else. Truly, it was a game to savor.
Earlier in the countdown, I said Game 4 of the Canadiens series was perhaps the high watermark of the Ovechkin-led Capitals. But in reality, it was probably this one.
The date was May 5, 2009, and the Caps were on the verge of going up two games to none against the hated Penguins in the second round. The Crosby/Ovechkin rivalry had reached its apex, and the brilliance of both players was on full display in one of the most intense games I've ever seen.
It's nice to mentally return to that day and relive what it felt like to be a fan. It was a time when Ovechkin was the best of the best, the Caps team was young and on a roll, the fans were at their loudest and reddest, their fiercest rivals were on their heels, and it seemed the Stanley Cup was only a matter of time.
If I had a time machine, that might be the day I would revisit. Just to experience that rush again, if only for a few moments.