Look out NHL, here come the Heart Attack Caps

April 6, 2012

In the recent history of sports, we like to affix the word “Cardiac” to a team that has a habit of pulling out last second victories.

For example, the 1980 Cleveland Browns were known as the “Kardiac Kids,” the 2003 Carolina Panthers were the “Kardiac Kats.”

Well, the 2011-12 Washington Capitals should from here on in be known as the “Heart Attack Caps.”

That’s because I’m pretty sure this hockey team is going to give me a heart attack one day. I’m convinced that at some point I’m going to be watching a game and all the sudden turn into Fred Sanford, grasping my chest and telling my wife, “this is the big one!” This is the first hockey team I can remember that has me ready to prepare my last will and testament, just in case.

Last night against the Florida Panthers was a pretty good example of the Heart Attack Caps in action. The Caps jumped out to a 3-0 lead, chasing Panthers goalie Jose Theodore in the process.

So what happened? The Caps gave up a late second period goal to Mikael Samuelsson and then Ed Jovanovski scored a fluky goal early in the third to bring the Panthers to within one.

Yet again, the Caps figured out a way to turn a sure blowout into a nail biter. This time, there would be no redux of the collapse against Winnipeg and Sasha Semin would score a late 3rd period goal to assure the Caps the win.

Combine that with Buffalo’s loss to Philadelphia last night and the Heart Attack Caps are in the playoffs and still alive for a division title.

Just another day at the office for this Caps team, one of the most mystifying hockey clubs in recent memory. With this team, no 2-0 or 3-0 lead is safe. Just when you think they are going to cruise to victory, they make it close. Just when you are ready to throw your hands up and leave this group for dead, as I have on this very blog several times, they come back.

This club looked like it was ready for the grave after last week's disastrous 5-1 loss to the Sabres. But Buffalo failed to capitalize on that win, losing key games thanks to some shaky goaltending by Ryan Miller. Meanwhile, the Caps stayed right on the Sabres by not so much winning as surviving, Matt Hendricks turned into the NHL’s top shootout specialist and thanks to, of all people, the Philadelphia Flyers, the Caps are in the playoffs.

---Side Note No.1 ---

Last night, when the Verizon Center crowd learned that the Flyers beat the Sabres in regulation, assuring the Caps a playoff berth with a win, the Red Army gave a standing o. Yes, for the first and probably last time in history, the Philadelphia Flyers were given a standing o by the Washington fans.

The Flyers win also assured the Flyers would play the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round. Someone may die in that series. My over/under on line brawls is at least 10. The two teams just came off a brawl-filled game in Pittsburgh where Flyers coach Peter Laviolette threatened homicide on his Penguins counterpart Dan Bylsma. The Flyers always like to get nasty and will surely be ticked about Pittsburgh injuring Danny Briere.

On the other hand, Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby is back to being his whining, diving, petulant self again, which I think is great. The league wasn’t the same without Sidney Crosby around to dislike.

As a Caps fan, my only wish is that the series were a best-of-130 instead of a best-of-7.

---End of Side Note No.1---

With this Caps team, I honest-to-goodness have no idea what they may do in the playoffs. My gut tells me they’re probably one-and-done, but every time I’m ready to toss in the towel on this team they keep coming back. I don’t know if its resiliency or what, but this team does not die easy.

Thanks to injuries to Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth, the Caps could be entering the first round with an untested Braden Holtby in net. Holtby was good in his limited time with the Caps last year, but was up-and-down at Hershey and Washington this year. For all I know, he could be Ken Dryden or Hardy Astrom come playoff time.

A lot depends on the matchup of course. At this point, three scenarios are in play. With a loss on Saturday to the New York Rangers, the Caps can just stay in Manhattan because they would be the 8th seed facing the top-seeded Rangers. Under that scenario, the Caps and Rangers would face each other for the third time in four years, only this time with the roles reversed: in the last two matchups, the Caps have been the higher seed.

With a win over the Rangers Saturday and an Ottawa loss to New Jersey, the Caps could move up to seventh spot with a first round matchup with the defending champion Boston Bruins.

The Caps STILL have a shot at a division title and home-ice in the first round as well, with a win and a Florida regulation loss on Saturday. Under that scenario, the Caps would host New Jersey. Hard to believe that with everything that’s happened to this Caps team that they still have a shot at a division title, but they do.

---Side Note No. 2---

Part of the reason the Caps, in a down year, still have a shot at the division is because of Florida’s outright mediocrity. In my opinion, the Panthers are frauds and are a sure candidate to get swept in round 1. Any team that has to rely on…

1) A league record 18 (!!) loser points (shootout and overtime losses are rewarded with 1 point)

2) Theodore in goal. While a genuinely good guy, no one can be counted on more to give up a soft goal or soft rebound at the worst possible time more than Theo. He didn’t get the moniker “Three-or-more” for nothing.

3) A top line that features Kris Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann. Versteeg is a good grinder, but he’s a third-liner on most clubs, while Flash is pretty much guaranteed to disappear offensively once the playoff going gets tough.

… is ripe for a first round KO. Of course, now that I’ve said that, they’ll go on to win the Stanley Cup, with Theo and Flash sharing the Conn Smythe Trophy.

---End of Side Note No.2---

So which matchup is best for the Caps? With the Heart Attack Caps, who knows? Personally, I think they're better off against Boston or New York, but given that they've been a lousy road team most of the year, I don't like their odds.

Then again, this team hasn't exactly lit the world on fire when they've had home-ice in the playoffs either.

This team is pretty much impossible to project and that's what makes them so interesting. They could shock the world and make a long run, or they could go down in flames early.

All we really know is this: given that they’re the Heart Attack Caps it will probably not be boring.

  • Ryan Mavity has been a reporter with the Cape Gazette since February 2007. He covers the city of Rehoboth Beach, Baltimore Ravens football and Delaware State University football. He lives in Georgetown with his wife, Rachel and their son, Alex.

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