Monday, April 7, 2008

Ten defining moments in the Capitals 2007-08 regular season

10. October 5th, 2007 - Opening night. In the first game of the season the Capitals delivered on their offseason promise: the new uniforms were crisp and sharp, new acquisitions Michael Nylander and Viktor Kozlov each notched a goal and the Capitals ruined Atlanta's "2006-7 Southeast Champions" banner raising ceremony by peppering Kari Lehtonen with 40 shots en route to a 3-1 win. The Capitals would of course falter soon after, but the first game of the season gave a glimpse into how strong Washington could be.

9. October 12th, 2007 - Capitals lose to the Rangers, 3-1. The first loss of the season doesn't have to be a defining moment (after all no one is going to go 82-0). But the Capitals' first loss of this season foreshadowed the problems the team would not be able to solve under Hanlon: having the best offensive players stifled under the defensive system, looking disorganized and listless and being simply unprepared.

8. January 15th, 2008 - Capitals beat Ottawa to sweep season set. By this point everyone in the league knew the Capitals could match up against the Senators, having taken the season's previous three meetings. But the sweep of season series served as proof that the Capitals could play with anyone, and provided a boost that helped the Capitals win the next two games, resulting in a crucial 4-1 homestand.

7. November 21st, 2008 - Bruce Boudreau's first game as head coach. Boudreau had only had control of the Washington bench for a day when the Caps staggered into Philadelphia to take on a Flyers team that looked quite good after a myriad of offseason changes, but it showed. The Capitals were uncharacteristically (at that point) aggressive and jumped on the Flyers 3-0. Even though it took birthday boy (and temporary fourth liner) Nicklas Backstrom's overtime winner to hand the game to the Capitals, the change in coaching philosophy was apparent and those 61 minutes, 55 seconds at Wachovia Center gave Capitals fans a world of hope.

6. January 11th, 2008 - Alexander Ovechkin signs his 13 year contract extension. Given the Capitals amazing and improbable race to the postseason it may seem a little strange but when all is said and done this may end up being the defining moment of 2007-08 for the Capitals, as inking the NHL's most exciting player to such a long contract gives Washington a great focal point to build the team around, signals to fans that the team is serious about winning and has the potential to move the nation's capital up in the eyes of the hockey world, possibly even becoming a "hockey town".

5. March 21, 2008 - Capitals beat Atlanta After losing to the Blackhawks 5-0 in the their previous game and trailing 3-1 at the second intermission it looked like the long uphill battle had taken its toll on the Capitals. However the Capitals rallied back, scoring four third period goals to beat the Thrashers 5-3. The Capitals would carry the momentum of that period with them even after the final buzzer and haven't lost a game since.

4. February 26th, 2008 - Capitals active at trade deadline. The flurry of activity at the deadline (Washington was the most active team) caught Capitals fans and the NHL by surprise, as George McPhee had said several times that the Capitals would likely stand part for the most part. However, the Canadiens and Blue Jackets made Cristobal Huet and Sergei Fedorov available for reasonable prices. When the dust had cleared the Capitals had picked up picked up that duo plus Matt Cooke, all without sacrificing any key pieces of their current roster or blue-chip prospects. All three acquisitions played significant roles down the stretch for the Caps: Huet went 11-2 with a 1.63 GAA and .936 save percentage, Cooke notched 7 points (3+4) and brought an aggressive forechecking presence to the lineup while Fedorov tallied 13 points (2+11), including the playoff-clinching goal. In addition, the trio help to solidify a Washington penalty killing unit that was among the league's worst.

3. April 4th, 2008 - Florida beats Carolina. As a team you always want to be in a position to control your own destiny. Unfortunately when you start 6-14-1, that's not always an option. Along the same lines, you never want one of the defining moments of your season to be someone else picking up a big win but the truth is that if Florida hadn't pulled out this improbable win, the Capitals wouldn't be in the playoffs.

2. April 5th, 2008 - Capitals beat Florida 3-1 at home. The culmination of months of hard work, the once left-for-dead Capitals finished off Southeast Division rival Florida in front of a raucous "red out" crowd to secure the franchise's first postseason berth in five years (and the first of Alexander Ovechkin's career).

1. November 22nd, 2007 - Glen Hanlon fired; Bruce Boudreau promoted. It might not have had the same cathartic effect as the win against Florida to seal the playoff berth, but without the promotion of Boudreau the Capitals would have, in all likelihood, be on the outside looking in yet again when it came to playoff time. As an aside, it must be slightly vindicating for George McPhee and the rest of the Capitals brass to have Boudreau lead the Capitals to postseason on the last day of the season after being criticized in some corners for being classless for firing Glen Hanlon on Thanksgiving Day, usually with the added caveat "they should have waited until the end of the weekend, it's not like it would have made a difference."

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