The Fall From The Eagles Nest: How Jaroslav Halak Ruined The Washington Capitals

Never have I hidden as much booze on my body.

I walked through the ticket line with plastic airplane bottles practically falling out of my ears. My ticket was for the last row in the Verizon Center, which the Capitals PR staff thought was cute to call The Eagles Nest. Nobody was going to care that my buddy and I brought our own fun.

We felt invincible, like most of the Caps fans in attendance.

2010 was supposed to be the year. The Capitals had already won the Presidents’ Trophy for taking the most points in the NHL that year. Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom were second and fourth in points, respectively. Mike Green was still a competent attacking defenseman and Alexander Semin didn’t suck yet, although we all knew that something wasn’t quite right with him.

So we climbed up to the top of the Verizon Center and looked down at what my friend and I thought would be the scene of a most glorious win. Everything was set up to be perfect. The Capitals were supposed to cruise through this opening round match-up against the Montreal Canadiens, already up in the series 3-1.

“We might get to see a handshake line,” I told my friend as we reached the top.

So there we sat in the last row of the joint, toasting each other with plastic bottles and proud of our team that made it to the top. Little did we know then that our Capitals team was teetering in its pinnacle, about to fall down the mountain they had just climbed.

After that game, nothing was the same. And it’s pretty much all because of then-Canadiens goaltender Jaroslav Halak.

Everybody knew that you had to test Halak up high, that he was too good to lose to low shots and against shots to the body. For all their scoring prowess, there was nothing that the Capitals could do to beat him.

From the top, it was easy to hear the air leaving the arena. The Canadiens scored two goals quickly in the first period and from then on, all the joy in the arena quickly turned to desperation. I clutched at my bottle instead of drinking any more. I was no longer invincible.

What happened in Game 5 came to be known as a Halaking. The Canadiens goaltender stopped 36 of 37 Capitals shots that day, only to outdo himself in the two remaining games in the series, stopping 53 of 54 shots in Game 6 and 41 of 42 shots in Game 7. It wasn’t the last time the Capitals have been undone by an outstanding goaltender (damn your handsome self, Henrik Lundqvist) but it never was quite like this.

The air that left the Verizon Center never really came back to the team in the following seasons. Coach Bruce Boudreau was gone after another season and another short-lived playoff run. Semin never had the same numbers and Green has looked more and more lost with each progressing season. Never have the Caps been back to that level, and they might not be back for years.

If Game 4 of the series, a 6-5 overtime Capitals win was their pinnacle, I was there for the start of their fall.

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