Washington Capitals fans weren’t just Rocking the Red, they were rocking the Verizon Center. During a TV timeout with 5:56 left to play in the third period, the Caps gameday staff played “Unleash the Fury,” a video that got the already roucous crowd whipped up into a frenzy.
At that point, the decibal level in the Verizon Center was deafening. In the arena, you could feel that something was going to happen for the Caps. When Sergei Federov, certainly no stranger to the playoff hero role, scored the game winning goal (and first of the series), the decibal level soared even higher, and remained there until well after the final horn blew.
Feds believed the energy from the crowd helped will the team to victory: “It was a great atmosphere all around. I’m sure any player who plays in an atmosphere like that would enjoy it and work hard and play hard… It really was an amazing experience.”
Bruce Boudreau agreed.
“The last five minutes after we scored,they never sat down, they never stopped cheering. If you look at the energy we had just in checking. The people brought that out. They wouldn’t let us not continue skating,” Boudreau said, adding, ” it was really a thing to watch.”
Of course, going into the third period, it was an experience few thought would come to pass. For the first two periods, the Capitals were out-played and out-hustled. If not for the continued dominating play by the barely 21-year-old Simeon Varlamov, this game could easily have been 3-0 after five and a half minutes.
In the first period, the normally gifted Washington offense had only managed two shots on the Rangers Henrik Lunqvuist. Luckily, one of them went in after deflecting off two Rangers defenders.
The second period was more of the same. It almost felt like the Caps were on penalty kill the entire period. Washington managed nine more shots on goal, but Lunqvuist looked to be back in form for this pivotal game 7. The most telling stat of the second period was time of possession. While this isn’t an officially kept statistic, Mike Green mentioned in the locker room after the game that he felt like the Caps only had the puck for 2 of the 20 minutes in the period.
After the second period ended, there was a weird vibe in the air. Some thought that this series was set to end like last year’s opening round defeat at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers. Still others thought that the Caps were lucky to be tied at 1, and that the third period was the Caps period, so anything could and would happen. Most though, believed the Capitals would prevail.
Whatever the vibe in the building, the vibe in the locker room was much like the last. In his post-game presser, Coach Bruce Boudreau, when asked what was said between the dreadful second period and the fateful third, quipped: “One of the messages was ’20 more minutes.’ How hard is that to work as hard as you can for one of the best feelings you’re ever going to have.”
Besides the motivation, the Coaching staff went to work, as well, trying to solve the dominating play the Rangers brought to the rink.
“We were used to them being a more passive team and they were very aggressive, in your face,” the Caps head coach stated. “We had to change what we were doing and I’m not that sharp. I took me two periods to figure it out.”
Whatever was said or done, it paid off. The Caps came out in the third playing like themselves. The passing was crisp, the effort was phenomenal and the results were there. Everyone in the building began to feel like a Russian was going to send the Rangers packing. Of course, everyone assumed that Russian would be Ovechkin or Semin.
Enter Sergei Federov. As Feds skated down the right side, pulling up to look for the trailer on the play for a pass, he noticed several things. First, Wayne Redden was playing way off, quite possibly because the ever-threatening Ovechkin was on the left side of the net. Second, there was no trailer on the play. Third, the top-shelf glove side of Lunqvuist, perhaps the outstanding goalies only weakness, was beakoning him. He let the shot go, kept a longer follow-through to get the shot up, and watched as the puck soared into the net for the eventual game winner with just under five minutes to go in the third.
Fellow teammate and countryman Alex Ovechkin was the first on the scene leaping onto the 39-year-old’s back, squeezing him hard and slamming him into the boards. Since Federov was the Red Wing that ended the Caps Stanley Cup hopes oh so many moons ago, perhaps this game seven winner will reverse the fortunes of this young, exciting team in their current pursuit.
Regardless of kharma and the existential side of the meaning of this goal, Federov has brought something the Capitals haven’t experienced since that 1998 run to the Cup finals and never since the best owner in Washington sports bought this team: a playoff series win.
While many thought Ovie would play the role of hero, Boudreau was not as surprised. “Experience sometimes pays off. He knew what he had to do and… when to do it,” the Capitals coach said. “That’s what makes him one of the greatest players ever.”
Washington Capitals fans everywhere sure think so.