Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Hope for a Night to Remember

The league MVP award is on the line tonight along with the Washington Capitals playoff hopes as Alexander Ovechkin leads the Caps into their final game of the season. They face the Florida Panthers, ironically the same team that did them a favor last night when they defeated Carolina, in what is easily the biggest game of Ovechkin's career and the the most important game for the Capitals in a very long time. All they have to do is earn a single point, just one, and they'll not only be in the playoffs but they'll also secure the third spot in the East and home ice advantage through at least the first round.

The Carolina Hurricanes and Capitals have been neck in neck in the Southeast Division for the last week or so as both teams surged towards a playoff birth. The teams come from very different angles, however, as the young Hurricanes franchise looks to overcome the disappointment of missing the playoffs last year after winning the Stanley Cup the year before. They started off incredibly well this season as one of the top team's in the East, and then tumbled through the standings before regaining their momentum at the end of the season. Washington, on the other hand, hasn't made the playoffs in years and struggled out of the gate prompting the dismissal of then coach Glen Hanlon. He was replaced by Bruce Boudreau and the team has soared since in what has become a record breaking season for their young superstar Alexander Ovechkin.

Ovechkin now has 65 goals on the season and 47 assists. He's set a new NHL record for goals by a left winger in a single season and was the first player to score more than 60 in a decade. He's easily the MVP of the league, but will he win the award if his team fails to make the playoffs? If history holds true, it's unlikely since the award is rarely given to someone on a team that failed to make the playoffs, which is just one of the reasons why he'll need to play the best game of his young career. A tremendous amount of pressure will also sit on the shoulders of Cristobal Huet, acquired at the trade deadline from the Montreal Canadiens, who has been nothing short of stellar since arriving in Washington.

Going into yesterday's games Washington was tied with Carolina in points, but Carolina had an additional win which gave them the top spot. All Carolina had to do was beat the Florida Panthers in their final game of the season to secure the division and their playoff birth. They out-shot the Panthers 46-17, but fell 4-3 in what can only be described as a devastating loss for the franchise. A loss that paves the way for Ovechkin and the young stars of the Capitals to make their playoff debut.

If they earn a point tonight and subsequently find themselves in the playoffs, they may just have the scoring depth and role players to surprise a number of teams. The NHL has to be quietly cheering for their new face of the league to make the post-season. It would make for quite a story and it's exactly the kind of drama that makes the NHL post-season the best season of any major sport.

1 comment:

Bethany said...

I am so so so happy that the Caps got in.