December 15, 2019

OPINION: Historic day in DC sports should be savored

The Washington Capitals and Washington Wizards (nor any previous combination of city and nickname) had never won a playoff game before on the same date. That is, until April 21, 2015. Add in a perfectly run-of-the-mill, ho-hum, boring, average 10th inning walk-off homer win by the Washington Nationals, and you’ve got yourself an historic day in the nation’s capital’s sports scene.

Obviously, the Caps and the Wizards are the big stories here. Both teams won road playoff games — the Caps evened their series with the New York Islanders at two games apiece, and the Wizards destroyed the Toronto Raptors to go up 2-0 in their series. The Nats walk-off, courtesy of a no-doubt homer by Yunel Escobar — punctuated by a head-first slide into the pigpile at home plate — was simply the cherry on top of the playoff sundae.

But all three victories are momentous in their own right.

Let’s start with the Caps, shall we? Nick Backstrom’s seeing-eye wrist shot from way downtown was a gift from the hockey gods. Even Backstrom will tell you he couldn’t have been trying to sneak that puck in the approximately four inches between Jaroslav Halak’s right shoulder and the crossbar. He was simply trying to get it on net, with the hopes that something good would happen, with Joel Ward camped in the crease and Alex Ovechkin lurking after the offensive zone faceoff win.

Something good, indeed, happened. Halak lost sight of the puck as it whizzed past Ward and Johnny Boychuk and it went right where Halak wasn’t. Goals like that often decide overtime games, and we saw it an hour later in the third overtime between Chicago and Nashville.

Make no mistake, out of the 14 periods the Caps and Islanders have played thus far in the four games of this series, the Caps have been soundly outplayed in 10 of them. Save for the final two periods in Game 2, the third in Game 3 and overtime Tuesday night, the Islanders have skated circles around the Caps. Yet, as a result of Backstrom’s wizardry and Braden Holtby’s superb play throughout, the Caps have regained home-ice and momentum heading into Game 5 Thursday. It’s a funny sport.

But how ’bout those Wizards?!? Losers of approximately 43 straight heading into the playoffs, they’ve come out like world-beaters  against a suddenly gagging Toronto squad, which after Tuesday’s loss have dropped their last four home playoff games. In Game 2, John Wall went for 26 and 17,  Bradley Beal dropped 28 and even Otto Porter added 15 as the Raptors had absolutely no answer for the Wizards’ guards.

The Wiz shot 53 percent from the floor and 47.6 from beyond the arc, and with Game 3 on Friday at Verizon Center, they’ve put themselves in a prime position to perhaps sweep the higher seed in the first round.

Then we come to the Nats, who pulled back to .500 with the 2-1 win over their new nemesis, the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals had won seven of the last nine from the Nats entering Tuesday’s game, and that doesn’t count the 2013 NLDS debacle. So how much does an extra inning walk-off win mean in the 12th game of the season? Especially coming after Drew Storen managed to blow another save against those very same Cardinals? It’s huge.

I’m not the biggest believer in team psyche, but for some reason the Nats seem snake-bitten against the Cards. They’re just starting to get a little momentum, with the return of Jayson Werth and Denard Span to the lineup and the news that Anthony Rendon has begun playing simulated games in Florida in rehab of his left knee sprain, and could very well start a minor league rehab assignment as soon as Friday.

Had they lost to the Cards, especially in the manner and form it would have taken — with Storen the goat again — it would have cast yet another pall over the early season and reinforce all the bad “juju” that surrounds this team as far as the Cardinals go. If you believe in those things, just maybe Escobar’s homer exorcised some of those demons and will allow the Nats to perform against St. Louis much as they do against the rest of the National League.

Yeah, as far as April baseball games go, it was a big one.

So live it up today, all you DMV sports lovers. April 21, 2015 was about as good as it gets. It’s a reminder that while it may be 23 years since the city last had a champion, at least they’re still trying. Though disappointment may still be in store tomorrow, don’t let that diminish the accomplishments of yesterday.

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