- The Washington Times - Friday, April 22, 2011

Suddenly, the puck was at Jason Chimera’s feet. You can spend your entire life on skates and never find yourself in the position Chimera was in Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden. In his case, that position was in front of the New York net, unattended, with a game, a series and who knows what else on the line.

It was nearly 13 minutes into the second overtime. The Capitals and Rangers were tied 3-3. At that point, there were only two possible scenarios:

1. The Caps scored to finish off one of the most amazing comebacks in franchise history – and take a 3-1 series lead.

2. The Rangers, after blowing a 3-0 advantage in the third period, scored to even the series – and hand the Caps another in a seemingly endless line of soul-crushing playoff losses.

That’s what the game had boiled down to. Those were the stakes involved. And no one on the Washington bench – or up in the owner’s box – wanted to even consider the second possibility. If the Capitals, the first-seeded Capitals, collapsed in the first round again, the impact on the organization figured to devastating.

But back to the puck at Chimera’s feet. It had gotten there in an unusual way – as pucks have a habit of doing. He’d fired a shot from above the right faceoff circle, but defenseman Bryan McCabe had gotten a piece of it. As the puck slid slowly toward the net, goalie Henrik Lundqvist reached to grab it with his glove. At the last instant, though, Rangers wing Marian Gaborik stuck his stick in and tried to clear the puck to the boards. To his horror, the puck hit Chimera in the chest and dropped to the ice.

What goes through a player’s mind in a situation like that, a situation so fraught with meaning? Well, here’s what went through Chimera’s mind:

“It seemed like time stood still there for 20 seconds,” he said after Friday’s practice at Kettler Iceplex. “You tell yourself not to kick it, not to put your hand on it. You just want to put it in with your stick.”

Fortunately for the Capitals, Chimera listened to the voice inside his head and didn’t use his skate or glove to tuck home the game-winner. Then he wheeled around and started speeding toward center ice in arm-pumping celebration. In his blind exhilaration, he blew past several teammates – Marcus Johansson (who had dropped a pass for him at the beginning of the play), John Erskine and Scott Hannan.

That was the one thing, he said, he didn’t remember about the goal until he saw it on the replay: He was so delirious, he ignored the guys who were on the ice with him. Alex Ovechkin, springing off the bench, was the first to catch him in a bear hug, and then the whole team swallowed him up.

“It’s a moment that you’ll never forget,” Chimera said. “But you’ve gotta move on. The playoffs are such a beautiful thing like that. You’ve got such big moments like that, but the next game you could have equally as big moments.”

He’s right about that, but let’s stick with this moment a bit longer. After all, we’re talking, potentially, about one of the biggest goals in Capitals history – a truly Golden Goal. Granted, in didn’t come in overtime of Game 7, the way Dale Hunter’s did against the Flyers in 1988. It also didn’t come in double overtime of the deciding game of the conference finals, the way Joey Juneau’s did against the Sabres a decade later. But neither of those Caps teams won the Stanley Cup (not that anyone needs to be reminded). If this turns out to be a magical season for them, though, Chimera’s score may well be remembered as The One, the goal that finally changed the club’s buzzard’s luck in the playoffs.

Obviously, there are still games to be played. Indeed, there’s still some work to do against the Rangers, who will be back at Verizon Center on Saturday looking to extend the series – and draw a few more pints of the Capitals’ blood. But the worm has to turn for the Caps at some point, doesn’t it? Why not on a goal by journeyman Jason Chimera, who has never scored more than 17 in an NHL season? Why not on a kooky play that saw the puck bounce off Chimera’s chest and end up on his stick, leaving him with the easiest of “put-backs”?

Such is the freakish nature of playoff hockey. “Especially in overtime,” he said. “James Neal’s goal in overtime [Wednesday night for the Penguins against the Lightning] was a kind of a [sharp-angled] shot from the board – and it went in. And Michael Ryder’s goal [the next night for the Bruins in OT against the Canadiens] was kind of a bounce off the board, and [Chris Kelly] just kind of threw it in front and Ryder put it in.”

And Chimera’s goal was another monument to improbability. “There’s not usually pretty goals in overtime,” he said. “They tend to be ugly ones. If you’re on the right side of ‘em, it’s good. And if you’re on the wrong side of ‘em, it’s bad.” On this night, the star-crossed Capitals were on the good side. A freak occurrence – the proverbial Bounce of the Puck – or a preview of coming attractions?

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