Last night, like the rest of you, I sat down, although rather reluctantly, to watch the conclusion of the Caps-Pens series.
Everyone who’s read my posts knows that I am as old school as they come when it comes to my views on ice hockey and the NHL. As an ice hockey player, and someone who is looking to get back involved in coaching, I have strong feelings about athletic integrity and sportsmanship.
My article on Bleacher Report, recently featured on CBSsports.com, entitled "Sean Avery and the Loss of Sportsmanship in the NHL," was more of an indictment on today’s players and brand of hockey than anything else. It was pretty heavy-handed, to be honest with you, and to a certain extent I have even regretted writing parts of it since it hit the net.
Upon reflection, I feel that I might have been too hard on Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Alexander Ovechkin, and the other players I mentioned in my article. I called Ovechkin “reckless” and “a ham,” Crosby an actor and a “crybaby,” and Malkin just plain “selfish.”
Although there are elements of their respective personalities and games that reflect my original opinion, Wednesday night’s contest certainly made me rethink what I wrote.
Up until last night I had only mildly enjoyed the series over the first six games. I found it quite hard sitting down to telecasts hyped up the way these were. Yet despite being tortured to no end by the deliberate and over-the-top promotion, I sat down and watched the games anyway.
Although I’m not a fan of either team, I found myself cheering for Washington, due to my opinion that the either the Canes or the Bruins will fare better against the Ovechkin-led Caps than against Crosby’s Pens in a possible Eastern Conference Finals matchup.
Why the dramatic change of opinion? One need look no farther than the players themselves, more importantly the behaviours and the astronomically high level of sportsmanship exhibited by both teams last night. It was enough to soften even the most hardened old school hockey critic.
Although the Caps crumbled, they behaved respectfully and honestly.
Despite being embarrassed by the Pens and poorly treated by the officiating crew for the seventh straight contest, not one Caps player took a run at any of the Pens stars.
I have a troubling feeling that if the Flyers, Blue Shirts, or even the Bruins found themselves down 5-0 nearly two-thirds the way through a Game Seven against a team as mild-mannered as the Pens, the likes of Avery, Milan Lucic, Daniel Carcillo, or Riley Cote would have, at a minimum, looked to stir a bit of trouble.
The Caps, without the services of Donald Brashear, played cleanly and accepted the loss like men.
Need more convincing?
Look no farther than the ceremonial handshake, which was as warm and sincere as any I have ever seen.
Bill Guerin’s embrace and kind words for Ovechkin were especially touching. Ovechkin’s attempt at a second apology to Sergei Gonchar, in front of the glare of the cameras, was a fantastic gesture. Ovechkin and Crosby’s heartfelt exchange...one could go on and on and on.
Then there were the postgame interviews and comments made at ice level. Crosby’s voice, always a tad on the shaky side, trembled with emotion when speaking about the series. It obviously affected the great man more than anyone anticipated. That in my book says a whole lot about the man.
To pull in 13 points in seven games against a team as potent as the Capitals is certainly an achievement that will be remembered.
Then there were the fact that Caps fans, a group routinely labelled as “fake,” cheered their team on until the last minute of play. Instead of booing their team's effort, as Montreal fans would most certainly have done, they cheered their team as if they had closed out the Pens—rooting for their performance over the season, not just on the night.
Every last fan stood for the final two minutes of the game. And how did the Caps repay them? Did they immediately skate off the ice and sulk like prima donnas?
No, they bowed and saluted the crowd, giving a few high fives to the kids and throwing a bit of memorabilia their way upon exiting the ice.
The only display of poor sportsmanship was from my new goat, Alexander Semin. One of (it might have been his last one) Semin’s last shifts ended with him leaving the ice on an early change after failing to collect a misguided outlet pass from one of his D. He hung his head, glared at his teammates, and sulked the rest of the way home. No wonder Bruce Boudreau benches him.
I am in no way saying the Caps should be proud of their effort last night. Let's face it, they were summarily embarrassed. However, it is nice to see the Washington-via-Hollywood-and-Moscow Capitals behave with a little bit of humility. I will be the first to admit that it is certainly more than I expected out of them.
Bravo Caps! Bravo Pens!