The line between triumph and tragedy in the playoffs is incredibly thin. In Vancover this morning Canucks fans will doubtless wake up -- if they were ever able to sleep -- happy and hopeful, believing that they are another big step closer in a playoff run that may end with a Stanley Cup celebration. And yet their three games against the Nashville Predators have each been decided by a goal, two of them ending in overtime.
In Washington right now those close to Capitals' owner Ted Leonsis are probably secretly removing anything with a sharp edge from around the mansion and leaving nothing but shoes without laces in the closets. The Capitals -- like the Canucks -- are a team for the moment, yet they have to climb a cliff to even think about a Stanely Cup this spring, even though they've lost their three games by a total of four goals, one in overtime and twice while having the lead.
There's nothing fluky about either set of results, but just a reminder about the razor edge that is playoff life, or death.
1. Panic in Washington
There was a great quote from one of the crowd -- bolstered by hockey fans coming from the MCI Center -- that gathered outside the White House on Monday night after the news of Osama Bin Laden's death. A Caps fan said they'd trade an overtime loss for the death of America's arch-enemy any day. I wonder how that guy feels now, with the Ovechkin's on the verge of a second-round playoff exit at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning? Puck Daddy -- and Caps head coach Bruce Boudreau -- on a team on the edge: "We panicked a little bit from behind," said Boudreau. "But that comes when you're down 2-0 in a series."
They're a team that knows how to close, and the Capitals are a team prone to panic and press. This is not a healthy combination for Washington.
In the first two periods of Games 1-3, the Capitals averaged 12.8 shots. In the third, the Lightning have limited them to five shots in each of those games and one goal - Ovechkin's tying tally to force overtime in Game 2.
No such heroics tonight for Ovechkin - who had a goal, an assist and an inspired performance from a guy wearing the 'C' - or any of his teammates. Tampa and Dwayne Roloson(notes) shut the door, and moved one win away from their first conference finals appearance since 2004.
The Capitals showed moments of resiliency, overcoming a 1-0 deficit with a dominant second period that included their first power-play goal of the series by Ovechkin on a 5-on-3. Goalie Michal Neuvirth(notes) kept them in the game with some acrobatic saves.
But it all goes back to something Vinny Lecavalier, who scored his fifth of the playoffs in Game 3, told us after Game 2: "They seem very determined. They just weren't opportunists."
For all the hype, all the expectations, all the long-term contracts, all the face-time on HBO, all the Winter Classic swag, all the popularity, all the proclamations that this time it'll be different, the Washington Capitals couldn't seize on their opportunities to avoid a 3-0 hole.
Instead, they're one loss away from another semifinal ouster. From a real conversation about their beloved coach's fate. From questions about their heart. From another summer wondering how it all went to hell in the span of 24 seconds
2. Blake Griffin; rookie of the ages:
It seems ridiculous to suggest there's some kind of changing of the guard going on in the NBA in the sense that two-time MVP LeBron James is just 26 and is theoretically still in ascendance. But Derrick Rose dethroned James as the league's MVP at age 22, becoming the youngest ever to win the award and Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers is looking like he'll be contending for the NBA's top individual honour soon enough. He'll be accepting rookie-of-the-year honours before that: Griffin was not simply the best rookie in the NBA this year. He was a rookie, for the years.
"Once he made the All-Star team and averaged numbers as a rookie that no one has done since Larry Bird, I don't know if Rookie of the Year even does it justice," said Clippers general manager Neil Olshey.