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July 18, 2019
by Michael Menser Dell, Editor-in-Chief
The Washington Capitals didn't need booze to waste their weekend, relying merely on old fashioned stupidity and shocking incompetence to squander four vital points in the standings.
It started Saturday in Boston. The Caps had battered the Bruins 10-2 only days earlier, and the Bears weren't about to be embarrassed on home ice in the rematch. Just five seconds into the contest, Milan Lucic dropped the gloves with Matt Bradley. Nine seconds later, Shawn Thornton and Donald Brashear were throwing. Message sent. Tone set.
The game settled down from there, and Washington emerged from the first period with a 1-0 lead on a Brooks Laich power-play goal. The Caps carried the same one-goal edge into the third. That's when they suffered a severe case of stupid.
Brashear kicked things off, taking a double-minor for high-sticking at 13:19. Ah, but he wasn't done yet. Brashear stopped on his way to the box to punch Shane Hnidy in the face, earning an additional two minutes for roughing. A subsequent John Erskine hooking penalty handed Boston a two-man advantage, allowing Zdeno Chara to knot the score with a bomb from the point.
With Brashear still rotting in the box, Tom Poti took a slashing penalty at 17:04, giving the Bears their second five-on-three. David Krejci worked some magic, walking in from the left wing and sending a beautiful cross-crease pass to Marco Sturm for the winner.
“I admit Brash’s penalties were dumb,” said Bruce Boudreau after the game. “A guy that’s been in the league that long should know that.”
Not surprisingly, Boudreau refused comment on the wisdom of giving Donald Brashear a shift with seven minutes to go in a 1-0 hockey game.
The Caps were back on the ice less than 24 hours later to host Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins. It's always a marquee event when Kid Crosby comes to town, although the true rivalry in the matchup appears to be Alexander Ovechkin versus Evgeni Malkin. The two have been physically punishing each other all season, with Ovechkin running his countryman again in the first period of Sunday's clash.
Inspired by Ovechkin's aggression, the Caps carried the play for the first two stanzas, outshooting the Birds 33-13. Marc-Andre Fleury and his milky white pads managed to keep the game 2-2 heading to the final frame. Pittsburgh cranked things up in the third but couldn't get anything past Cristobal Huet. With less than a minute to go in regulation, the two clubs seemed destined for extra hockey.
But never fear! Just when things appeared bleak for the hometown team, Nicklas Backstrom stepped up and delivered the game-winner, pouncing on a puck in front of the net and snapping it home with just 28 ticks left on the clock.
There was only one slight problem. Backstrom kind of, sort of, shot the puck into his own net. Yeah, hard to get happy after that one.
It was stunning. The play started with Hal Gill wristing the puck down low to Crosby at the bottom of the left circle. Sid couldn't corral the bouncing biscuit, spinning around to sweep it in front of the cage with one hand. Backstrom was jockeying for position with Pascal Dupuis near the right post when the puck trickled into the open. What happened next is open to debate. There are three distinct possibilities.
First, Backstrom could have been attempting to push the puck back to Huet. That seems unlikely. He fired it. I mean, he actually elevated the puck. Adam Oates never shot that hard.
Second, the Swedish rookie may have been trying to clear the puck behind the net and got a little confused. It happens. Sometimes I put my waffles in the VCR.
Third, he had Pittsburgh -0.5 Does he even know Gretzky's wife?
The cool thing, though, is how Backstrom reacted. He didn't lower his head or slam his stick or anything. He just stood his ground, looked straight ahead, and immediately began adjusting his elbow pads like nothing happened. It was wicked smooth.
"That was officially heartbreaking," said Boudreau. In fact, the coach hasn't been this distraught since Jell-o quit making Pudding Pops. The man loves his pudding.
Kid Crosby got credit for the goal, giving him two on the afternoon. Jordan Staal tacked on an empty-netter to make the final 4-2. Malkin also outscored Ovechkin three assists to two, picking up a point in the scoring race.
The weekend was devastating to Washington's playoff hopes. Carolina beat Buffalo 4-3 in overtime Saturday to increase its lead to seven points in the Southeast. The Caps are currently tenth in the Wales Conference, six points behind the Flyers for the eighth seed. Washington has 12 games left on its schedule, including two against the Canes.
I feel terrible for Backstrom. But hey, on the bright side, it happened on NBC, so at least no one saw it.