Now, we’ll find out for sure if Hockey Gods really do exist.
Growing up a Caps fan, I assumed they didn’t. Or, if they did, I just figured they weren’t a fan of Washington’s hockey team.
How else can you explain the misery that accompanied the Caps through their first six years or so? My dad and I were season tickets holders at the Cap Centre in year 2 and year 3 and I can tell you, for sure, it was – on my most nights anyway - just a dismal place to watch hockey.
And the Philadelphia Flyers were at the root of that misery on a number of occasions in the early stages of the Caps franchise.
Those rat fink fans from “Philthy”, clad in their ugly burnt orange jerseys, would cram their way into the Cap Centre in the mid 70’s and just overwhelm the Caps’ faithful with chants of “Let’s Go Flyers” (with the accompanying rythmic clapping). Every game back then, particularly in Washington, seemed to end the same way. “Philthy” would have a 4-2 lead early in the 3rd period and the Caps would scratch and claw their way back into it with a couple of blue-collar type goals and it would be 4-4 with five minutes to play. Then, the appropriately nicknamed Ken Linseman — known as “The Rat” — would take a dive in the corner and Ron Hogarth would raise his right arm and send a Caps defender to the penalty box. On the power play, some non-skating goon defenseman from Philly would send a slapshot toward the goal. Tim Kerr would station himself in front of the goal, try and deflect the shot past Jim Bedard or Mike Palmateer, then – because he was a clumsy oaf – would be knocked off his skates by a Caps defenseman and would fall into Bedard or Palmateer…and Brian Propp would skate in from nowhere and jam the puck into the net and those rat fink scallywag fans from Philly would ROAR with approval and the Caps and their fans would look at Hogarth and the officiating crew and say, “HEY, HOW ABOUT INTERFERENCE ON KERR YOU SON-OF-A-$#@&*”
That’s how it went in the early years with the Caps. The Flyers owned them. But they owned them because the referees and the Hockey Gods allowed it.
Until 1983-84, that is. The Caps blanked them 3-games-to-0 in the playoffs and I was there in the Spectrum for Game 3 when the brooms came out. Don’t worry, I didn’t rub it in too much on those scallywag fans. Well, OK, maybe I did rub it in a little (or a lot), but after all that misery they caused ME in the 70’s, I owed them, big time.
In ’88-89, the Caps trailed in the decisive game 7 (at home), 3-0 before rallying back to force overtime. After Mike Gartner hit the post for about the 5th time in the game – in overtime (his specialty back then…hitting posts) – Dale Hunter found himself alone at the blue line and beat Ron Hextall for a sudden death overtime game-winner that still goes down as one of my all-time favorite “home team” victories. Ever. Seeing those Philly fans walk out of the building with their heads down…ahhhhhhhhhh…nothing like it.
I won’t mention the Flyers beat the Caps in a playoff series the next year. Who cares?
Which brings us around to 2007-2008. Both teams have completed near miraculous turn-arounds, as the Flyers and Caps were each laboring at the bottom of the league for the last few seasons before this year rolled around and they both suddenly caught fire to make the playoffs with little room to spare.
As much as I’d like to wish the Flyers well, I can’t. That would be like sending The Son of Sam a birthday card up in Attica.
I’m not sure if a Caps win in this series would completely close up all of those old wounds the Flyers inflicted on my dad and I back in “the old days”, but it would go a long way to doing so, that’s for sure. I wouldn’t mind so much if the Caps played the Senators, Penguins or Devils and lost in the post-season. Just don’t let the Flyers beat ’em, that’s all I ask.
In Alexander, we trust.