Friday, May 18, 2007

Ah, Memories...

Tarik tells us that Nicklas Backstrom will wear #19 for the Capitals and lists the players who wore the number before him. Reading through that list and thinking of the playoffs at this time of year; it brought back some fond memories and not ones of Brendan Witt or Enrico Ciccone.

But of John Druce in the spring of 1990. At that point in time he lead Caps fans on what was the most thrilling playoff run ever. He unloaded for 14 goals and 3 assists in 15 playoff games. Clearly the best playoff performance of his life in what was his rookie year after playing 45 games and scoring 8 goals and three assists in the regular season.

Druce of course is remembered more his work in the series against the Rangers in the second round when he scored two game winning goals including the series clincher in OT in MSG in Game 5.

The Caps that season the Caps finished third in the Patrick Division and dispatched the second place Devils in six games and then bounced the first place Rangers in 5 before falling to Adams Division Champion Boston Bruins in 4 games. The Caps never had home ice advantage that year but got further than they ever had before.

But what sticks in my mind the most that spring was that Rangers series, especially the last two games of it. Game 4 at the old Cap Centre went to OT and Rod Langway stole the puck from none other than Mike Gartner at the Rangers blueline and skated to the top of the circle before unleashing a wrist shot that snuck under the bar past Mike Richter. It was at that point there was no doubt that the Caps were going places. Langway hadn't scored a goal all season before that night.

I remember my father picking up some of the newspapers out of New York and bringing them home to show me. The one cartoon I remember the most was a Ranger showing off a huge cup of coffee and the caption read something like "So when they said to go for the cup they meant coffee????" Imagine if we had that kind of sports press around these parts.

Druce capped off the Rangers (and his run) with a goal in OT after Dale Hunter (of all people) wiffed on a puck bouncing on the goal line that could have ended the series sooner. The Caps seemed content with their progress and got swept in the Wales Conference Finals by Boston. But Caps fans didn't care very much. After being bounced by lesser teams year after year we felt that the monkey was finally off our back. The Cup that we had longed for would be coming sooner rather than later. It didn't turn out that way as we're still waiting for our first turn with Lord Stanley reigning over Washington.

If you're wondering about John Druce, he only scored three more goals in 38 playoff games for the Caps and Flyers before his NHL career ended in 1998. As a matter of fact I remember sitting next to a guy at Game Six of the 1994 playoff series against the Penguin Scum (when we actually eliminated them) at the Cap Centre who had a receding hairline, was wearing a John Druce jersey, and thought he was both Beavis AND Butt-head. (It was the only thing that ruined what was a glorious night.)

Backstrom has yet to play an NHL game so I think it is a tad bit early to anoint him the "best #19 in franchise history." But I think he does has a very good shot at it, especially if he plays like John Druce did in the 1990 playoffs.

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