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Well, how do you like that? After 81 games—-which included an early-season meltdown followed by an improbable comeback—-the Washington Capitals found themselves in a win-and-you’re-in, lose-and-you’re-out playoffs situation during their final game of the regular season. (Okay, technically, they could have lost in overtime and still made the playoffs, but my way sounds much more dramatic.)

Of course, no team in the history of the NHL had ever found themselves in last place within their conference midway through the season and then gone on to make the playoffs. (Okay, again—-technically, the Caps were dead last in the NHL on Thanksgiving Day when coach Glen Hanlon was fired and replaced with AHL coach Bruce Boudreau but 14th in their conference midway through the season. But you know what? No team has ever been in that position midway through the season and made the playoffs, either.) So, when the Capitals defeated the Florida Panthers (who had actually saved the Caps’ playoff hopes by defeating the Carolina Hurricanes the night before) by the score of 3-1 Saturday night, the team not only secured its first Southeast Division Championship title since the 2000-2001 season and first playoff appearance since the 2002-2003 season, it also secured its place as one of the NHL’s greatest comeback teams in the league’s history.

Some other results of Saturday night’s thrilling victory:

  • Franchise left-winger Alex Ovechkin—-who won the league’s Art Ross Trophy (most points) and the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy (most goals) and also set an NHL record for the most goals (65) ever scored by a left wing in the regular season (previously held by “Lucky” Luc Robitaille with 63)—-is now a shoo-in to also win the league’s Hart Memorial Trophy for most valuable player. Leading up to the Capitals’ final regular season game, the only argument against Ovechkin not winning MVP was that many hockey journalists felt the award should only go to a player who led his team to the post-season. Well, there you go, guys.
  • The Caps are automatically awarded the 3rd seed in the Eastern Confernce as Southeast Division champs. As a result of the Philadelphia Flyer‘s victory over a Sidney Crosby-less Pittsburgh Penguins team yesterday afternoon, the Flyers advanced to 6th place and will play the Caps in the first round.
  • The Hurricanes—-who led the Southeast Division for the majority of the regular season—-were eliminated from the playoffs. Honestly, it’s kind of a shame—-they’re out by a measly two points. I guess they could blame NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman‘s “overtime-loser-gets-a-point-for-losing” points system: Carolina (9th place), whose 92 regular season points only included 6 Loser Points, didn’t make the playoffs while Philadelphia (95 points, 11 Loser Points, 6th place), Ottawa (94 points, 8 Loser Points, 7th place), and Boston (94 points, 12 Loser Points, 8th place) all did. Do the math, and you figure out that—-without the Loser Point system—-Carolina would have jumped up at least two, if not three spots. Then again, Carolina would be better served placing the blame on themselves for losing to the Caps, their divisional rivals, twice in the final weeks of the season, as well as losing to the lowly Panthers in their final regular season game (in which a win would have secured a playoff spot).
  • Rookie center Nicklas Backstrom will have to be given more serious consideration for the Calder Memorial Trophy, which is awarded to the rookie of the year.
  • Boudreau will have to be given top serious consideration for the Jack Adams Award, which is given to the coach of the year, for miraculously taking a last-place team to the playoffs.
  • I’m going to have to do a lot more blogging.

So, what now?

  • Well, the most important thing you can do is BUY PLAYOFF TICKETS. A sellout for the first two home games against Philadelphia is inevitable (if it hasn’t happened already)—-but, unless Caps fans swallow up every ticket they can find, there will be a lot of Philadelphia fans invading Verizon Center. Philly is only a short distance away, and Flyers fans have a hard enough time getting tickets for regular season games as it is, so you’d better believe they went searching for tickets the moment the playoff seeding was finalized. It’d be a shame to lose the amazing atmopshere we’ve had at Verizon Center during the last month or so.
  • Continue with the “Red-Out.” If you don’t own a red piece of clothing already, buy somthing red and wear it to the games. It doesn’t have to be a $185 Ovechkin jersey purchased at Verizon Center’s gift shop (although I’m sure Ted Leonsis and Co. would appreciate such a purchase). It can be a raggy old t-shirt or hoodie or whatever. As long as it’s red.
  • Grow your playoff beard. Even if, like me, you can’t grow a beard worth a damn, do it anyway. (In that instance, call it “playoff scruff.”) Don’t worry about looking unshaven/unkempt at your workplace. All you have to do is explain that the Caps are in the playoffs and you have to support the team…by not shaving. As any hockey player or fan will tell you, shaving during the post-season is bad luck. REALLY bad luck. So don’t do it.
  • If you’re really hardcore, give yourself the mohawk that Caps defenseman (and leading goal-scoring defenseman) Mike Green said he would give himself if the team made the playoffs. I haven’t seen him sporting the ‘hawk yet, but he did it when the Hershey Bears made the Calder Cup playoffs the last two years—-so you know he’ll probably make good on his word. I’m sure a faux-hawk will do.