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Too little, too late? Washington & Edmonton fighting for playoffs

 

In action flicks, it all comes down to the ultimate face-off. In college, the dreaded Final caps off a semester with either elation or disappointment. In hockey, since the installation of the new NHL and its scheduling, it all comes down to the last few weeks.

This year, no two teams illustrate this fact more than the Washington Capitals and the Edmonton Oilers.

Both teams began the 2007-2008 season with rocky starts. Washington was so unsteady at first, tallying a record of 6-14-1 in their first 21 games, that coach Glen Hanlon was fired and replaced with Bruce Boudreau. Meanwhile, Edmonton could not seem to catch a break, especially within its own division, losing many games to divisional rivals. The injuries piled up along with the losses and much of the sports-world predicted Edmonton would finish last in the NHL.



Today, nearly a week before the Stanley Cup playoffs begin, both teams are on the outside looking in, but both teams have had amazing turn-around seasons to bring them there.

Washington only dropped four games in March. They are currently on a four game win streak with three games remaining. They are still in the playoff hunt.

Edmonton has gone 13-4-1 in its last 18 games and pulled themselves, tooth and nail, back into playoff contention. They have most certainly fought for every last point.

What is perhaps most unfortunate is that the fate of both team’s playoff hopes, even with all the hard work and stunning transformation, now rests on the wins and losses of other teams.

Washington is three points behind the Flyers, Bruins, and Rangers, who all currently rest in a three-way tie. They are two points behind Carolina, whom they play on April 1 st for a chance to tie for the lead in the Southeast division. Every game counts and likewise, every game counts for Carolina. It will certainly be a fight to the finish for both teams and one team’s hard work is going to go unrewarded.

Washington’s hopes, at this point, seem a little brighter than Edmonton’s. Despite an incredible playoff push, the Oilers only have two games remaining. The teams they are chasing, Vancouver and Nashville, have three. That game in hand could mean the end of the Oiler’s season no matter how amazing the team may play. It may not be fair in a sentimental sense, but it doesn’t matter that the Canucks have dropped four of their last five games and it doesn’t matter that the Predators next three games are match ups against the 27 th and 21 st ranked teams. In order for the Oilers to make the playoffs, they will have to beat the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks, both of which are ranked 15 th and 17 th in the NHL, and the Canucks and Predators will have to lose. So much of the hard work put into this final stretch of the season may not be enough. The fate of Edmonton’s playoff hopes rests far from their hands.

As a sports enthusiast, it’s easy to feel for teams like Washington and Edmonton. In our daily lives we work hard and hope for the best and right now, that is all the Capitals and Oilers can do as well. Movies have transformed the underdog into a heart-wrenching character. We care about what happens to the underdog. We want the drama and fascination that comes with the improbable becoming a reality. The "Miracle on Ice" of 1980 would not have been so amazing if the US had been heavily favored. This year’s surprising Super Bowl ending would not have dropped jaws if the Giants had been the chosen winners. As a sports loving population, we appreciate the underdog and from the minds of a sports loving population, both the Capitals and the Oilers have so much we can appreciate.

Alexander Ovechkin has solidified his status as a hockey household name. His amazing achievements this year have pushed him into the spotlight and garnered him potential Hart Trophy candidacy. His teammates have had amazing achievements as well. Just to name a few, rookie center Nicklas Backstrom has had a standout season with rumors of Calder contention beginning to develop, defensemen Mike Green has increased his point total from 12 last season to an astonishing 51, and new acquisition Cristobal Huet has gone 8-2-0 in the 10 games he’s started for the Caps.

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In Edmonton, the young Oiler team has surprised nearly everyone, coming together like veterans and winning despite inexperience and injury. Rookie Sam Gagner has tallied 49 points by himself, and young veteran Ales Hemsky will end this season with at least 71 points, already an 18 point increase from last season. Goalie Mathieu Garon has held strong after the 60-minute mark, winning game after game for the Oilers in overtime or shoot out. If Edmonton fails to make the playoffs this season, their future is still bright as many of these young players will grow to compliment each other and play as a team.

Any team would be lucky to find the chemistry and passion that both the Capitals and Oilers have uncovered in the last third of the season. But with eighty-two games, it all must come to an end. Each day, team after team either secures a playoff spot or falls out of contention for good. For Washington and Edmonton, the fight could very well come down to game 82 and if neither team has a playoff berth this season, the end will most certainly be bittersweet. Both teams have pushed and struggled and come together and to end this battle in early April would almost seem like ending the story too soon. Whatever happens, however, the story of this season for both Washington and Edmonton is something their players and fans alike should be very proud of and hopefully will light the dark places if a playoff berth falls just a touch too short.

 

By Shaela Moen
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer

 

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