Three things stuck out about this game, and they clearly fit into...
Adam Oates: Do it for the Fans
No playoffs? No problem.
Despite the Capitals’ lackluster season, fans filled the Verizon Center seats for Friday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks. The crowd was formidable enough to drown the rowdy chants of Chicago fans who bubbled up from some cesspool to heckle the Caps in their own home. Though by no means a full house, the fans were supportive of the Capitals even in light of a truncated season. The decibel meter that hangs in the Verizon Center rafters rarely dipped below 85 dB as the crowd groaned and cheered all the way to a 4-0 Caps victory.
Games that don’t matter may be hard to play, but usually, they’re even harder to watch. That principle didn’t apply to Friday’s baffling 4-0 win over the defending Stanley Cup champions. With no guarantee, however, for a thrilling game or even a win, fans described why exactly they come back and watch so-called meaningless games.
Cheap tickets enticed some. Others sought a fun Friday night. The majority, however, cited dedication as the main factor.
Kevin Fischer, a Woodbridge, Va. man, who wore a goalie’s helmet equipped with its own revolving goal light, was one such passionate Capitals fan.
“I’m a fan whether they’re winning or losing. I’ve been a fan since 1975. I’ve been a fan since we used to cheer for them just making a pass. If you’re a fan, you keep coming to the games you still support your team,” he said.
Though it can be said that the Hawks had little to gain from a win in Washington, the Capitals performed well against a still worthy opponent.
Goaltender Jaroslav Halak made 33 saves in order to blank Chicago, with goal support from Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and most surprisingly, Jay Beagle. Beagle has never before scored two goals in a game; prior to Friday he had two goals to represent the entire season.
Perhaps the difference was a sense of obligation.
“We’re grown men; we’ve got to get the job done. People still pay for tickets, and come to games, and wear the jerseys. They still support us…We have to show up there in the stadium,” said Joel Ward, who beat Hawks’ tender Corey Crawford only to ring the post mid-first period.
Ward’s teammates echoed his sentiments.
“All the fans: that’s why we are here right now. [If] we can’t make the playoffs, we want to show them that we play for them,” said Backstrom.
According to coach Adam Oates, this mentality is something he and the players have discussed continuously.
“I told the guys…that part of their job as professionals is to play as hard as you can. ‘Do it for yourselves and do it for the people that come watch you play. You owe them,'” he said in a press conference following the game.
The Caps are not looking back, or playing the “what if” game, as they come to the climax of this 2013-14 season. If only for the fans, they seek to finish the season strong with one more win on Sunday before segueing into a pivotal offseason.