3MI Roadtrip Recap: Washington

(In place of a traditional “Overreactions” post, which would be extremely tardy, this is 3MI Roadtrip Recap. A mix of what the postgame blogs usually look like and a look into the trip. Hope you like it. If you don’t, well, blow me.)

Preamble

Sometimes you gotta just say “Fuck it.

Having a few good friends living in the DC region, a trip to the Verizon Center had been on the docket as a possibility for a while. This week’s game had multiple arguments against the viability of the trip. Leading the way was the fact it was on a Tuesday. It was just something like “Alright, I’ll keep an eye on Southwest Airlines deals into BWI and see if there’s a good deal and then I’ll consider it…” until days kept creeping up on March 27 and all of a sudden the magnitude of the game became apparent. Just a week prior, I’m sitting at work texting a friend about maybe going and a song comes on and it’s time to show a cut from Sting’s new album.

So Monday after work, I hit the road for my friend’s place outside Baltimore. We and a couple of her friends got tickets for a somewhat reasonable price on StubHub over the weekend. So after a brief seven hour drive, it was a good night of sleep that stood between me and the day of the next biggest game of the season.

I had been to Washington and the area multiple times on various road trips over the past few years, including a trip last summer to catch a Nats game and a USMNT game. It’s a beautiful city, tons of stuff to do, a hell of a lot of fun. I had done the basic stops on the pilgrimage all Americans should make before, but it didn’t stop a return visit to the Museum of American History, which is always mind-blowing.

A few hours touring around downtown DC led to pre-game beers led to the game. Oddly, I had little to no stress about the game, mainly due to the fact it was such a mess finding my way down there and the looming overnight drive I had waiting for me. But here it was.

Sabres @ Capitals
Viewed at: Verizon Center, Washington, DC

It wasn’t a must-win looking at the standings. It was only a must-win mentally. Which if you think about it, means it wasn’t. But really, what the fuck’s the difference? They won anyways.

In a game that had a magnitude that matched the hype, the red-hot Sabres stepped up and buried the Capitals in their home rink, walking out of Washington with a 5-1 win and possession of eight place in the Eastern Conference.

Drew Stafford scored twice for Buffalo, who got 44 saves from newly named NHL Second Star of the Week, as Ryan Miller continued his impressive run.

“It’s a great thing because of the way we’re playing,” Stafford said. “We can control our fate now. We know every game from now on is just like it’s been the past month or so—it’s must-win. Even though we’re in right now, it doesn’t matter to us because we’ve got games left and we need to get the job done.”

An early goal by previously goalless Cody McCormick gave Buffalo a lead midway through the first, which they’d never relinquish. After Stafford jammed in a goal late in the first to make it 2-0, Thomas Vanek extended it to insurmountable mere minutes into the second period, which chased Capitals starter Braden Holtby.

Washington soon cut it to 3-1 on an Alex Semin goal, but with the Sabres killing a penalty late in the period, Captain America came through in America’s capital. Winning a puck battle along the boards, Jason Pominville outworked Alexander Ovechkin, streaked down the boards and ripped a shot past Michael Neuvirth to put the Caps hopes to sleep.

Drew Stafford added an insurance/insult goal in the third, giving him 19 on the season.

Buffalo leaped ahead of Washington and within two points of idle Ottawa for 7th place in the East.

  • Cody McCormick gets ripped on when he doesn’t score, so he gets credit when he does. Good work to find his way to the spot he needed to be, and got it done. It was a huge goal. Nice to see him finally get one. He’s about five months behind schedule.
  • Man, Ryan Miller was again phenomenal, but whoever’s scoring shots in Washington missed the memo that indicated it has to be on goal to count. Noticed at least once in the third period where a shot that missed the net got counted. Good for his stats, but not accurate.
  • Biggest acquisition this season: Christian Ehrhoff, Cody Hodgson or the concept that Tyler Ennis might be a really good center? That pass on the second Stafford goal was sublime.x
  • I’ve never seen so many Ovechkin jerseys in my life. Seriously, about 60-65% of the jerseys fans wore in the crowd were #8. Didn’t even notice many jersey fouls, despite the deep respect everyone has for the sheer quantity and quality of them in DC.
  • Stafford is 26, Ennis is in his second full season, and Marcus Foligno is in the first year of his entry-level deal. Holy crap, that line could dominate for years.
  • Verizon Center really is a fairly nice building. Great views, bright concourses, good selection of food and all that crap. Fun place to watch a game. Atmosphere in there was great. Fans were into it early, they just got pissed and shut up once the game slipped away.
  • Christian Ehrhoff left with a knee injury, forcing unsung hero Jordan Leopold into overtime duty, where he played over 28 minutes. First, if Ehrhoff is out long-term, yikes. Second, Jordan Leopold doesn’t get enough credit. Dude’s a stud.
  • Other great thing about Verizon Center? Location, location, location. Right downtown, surrounded by bustling buildings with offices, restaurants, bars, etc. There’s a bevy of options within a block or two, and everywhere was busy prior to the game.
  • Derek Roy won 6 of 21 draws. Eish.
  • Sabres fans made a solid showing thanks to the heavy ex-pat influence in the area. The loud Sabres fans wasn’t a mistake, or due to the Caps fans being quiet. It was how loud the Sabres fans were.
  • Didn’t meet any bad vibes from Caps fans, except the one dude during second intermission who yelled at me and a friend to “Get the fuck out of here! Go home you assholes.” It was funny at the time, because for the most part, all Caps fans kept to themselves. Only fight I saw in the stands were between Caps fans.

Some thoughts from my buddy Mark Byrnes (@markbyrnes525) on the game and the experience:

  • This was my first regular season game at the Verizon Center since the end of the Capitals’ black, gold, and blue era (I first lived in DC from ’95-’05). Although the change is obvious on television, experiencing the atmosphere in person was surreal. It’s great to see a franchise that couldn’t sell out playoff games during the Jagr era, organically generate so much buzz in a fight for the 8-seed. As the blowout continued and Caps fans left though, the increasing swaths of empty purple seats felt nostalgic.
  • The arena presentation seemed less dependent on excessively testosterone-laced videos and music to get hockey novices pumped up (something the Caps have historically relied on during the Leonsis era). I’ll take it as a sign that the Caps are finally creating an actual hockey-loving fan base. Then again, Tiesto was in attendance so perhaps this was just VIP pandering.
  • Verizon Center’s interior has received a facelift over the last couple seasons. Red, white, and blue paint now brands the arena, and the concessions options have improved. On the downside and unlike the Sabres, the Capitals redesigned their banners so that there is no aesthetic trace of their late 90s color scheme. It’s dishonest to ignore that, especially with the team’s only Stanley Cup appearance having occurred in those uniforms.
  • As an ex-pat, turned re-pat, turned ex-pat again, it’s always great to be surrounded by passionate Sabres fans who get two chances a year to see their team in-person. The lower bowl of the arena seemed mostly unaffected by comparison but the presence of former Buffalonians in the upper bowl made it feel like the 300s at FNC. The “Shout!” song and “Let’s go, Buffalo!” chants only increased as the game went on.

Was fortunately able to meet up with the famous @BanginPanger and the ever-ubiquitous @wyshynski after the game to talk hockey over some adult beverages before I hit the road back for Buffalo. Despite not leaving DC until after midnight, and requiring only a couple hours of sleep to remain a competent driver, I was back into Buffalo at 10:30am.

Saying it was worth the gas, the stress, the lack of sleep is like saying there’s a few Ovechkin jerseys in the crowd. Incredible, amazing trip.

Posted on March 29, 2012, in Sabres/NHL and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Don’t know how you could do it…I live in the Washington area, and it would have been a lot easier for me to go in, but I didn’t. I love the Sabres and all, but it just doesn’t seem as worth it to me anymore.
    Anyway, I’ve been living here in one form or another for almost 9 years now. The turnaround in the area surrounding the arena has been amazing even since I’ve lived here. That area wasn’t bad in 2003, but it also wasn’t near what it is now. The difference in DC, developers have the clout and also have fewer hoops to jump through than they would in Buffalo, where everyone seemingly has their hands out. I’d actually still like another bar or two down in DC. It can get crowded after the games.

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