Humans’ impulse for empathy is a great and powerful instinct, but there are times when it is banally misapplied. Sports are, in the biggest picture context, virtually meaningless pursuits, but we do invest billions in their architecture, to say nothing of our emotional investment, and as such accountability in high stakes showdowns is inevitable and appropriate.
A few sweet souls took to Twitter in the aftermath of what has to be regarded as one of the most shocking (which is saying something), infuriating, and malicious of playoff defeats in team history last night and sought to deflect attention from where it rightly was — Joel Ward’s singular act of ruinous malfeasance.
Among these tweets were all manner of deflecting what-ifs, principally focused on the Capitals’ numerous missed opportunities to ice away a game while clinging to a 2-1, third period lead. But missed 2-on-1s and struck goal posts are altogether normal hockey outcomes in a game, any game. What Joel Ward did was anything but.
It really is as simple as this: Every hockey player must maintain control of his stick, at all times, for it is a weapon. Last night, Joel Ward’s hockey stick was a weapon of mass self-destruction.
With a mere 22 seconds to go before his team realized a remarkable 3-2 series lead against the East’s no. 1 seed, Ward fouled Carl Hagelin’s face, and in the process likely fouled as well his team’s postseason fate. Ward’s senseless and undisciplined stick foul resulted in a double minor infraction that precipitated two New York Ranger dagger goals. It is likely that Ward, and Ward alone, fouled as well one of the more remarkable postseason opportunities this franchise has ever seen deep into spring.
“Joel Ward did the UNTHINKABLE,” Ed Frankovic wrote of the infamous act. But it actually is and was thinkable because it was and ever is our Washington Capitals, in the postseason. With some routine they do infamously achieve what is for all other NHL franchises the unthinkable.
It was altogether right and appropriate for Ward’s teammates to console him in the postgame morgue that was the Capitals’ Madison Square Garden locker room, and for his head coach to focus his observations on fluky bounces of the puck late in game 5. But it is also right for the rest of us to be filled with ire and outrage, and exasperation, and to ask of the winger, What the fuck?
“Everyone’s taken a penalty and something’s bad happened,” Karl Alzner tried to deflect. “There’s nothing he needs to say.” Alzner is a great teammate, but in this instance, he’s flat wrong. Twenty two seconds til series-swinging nirvana. The ice clogged by frenzied humanity. Life then supremely tough enough with the Blueshirts accorded an extra skater, pressing so cause they know the stakes, so the only thing you truly cannot do is unclog the sheet by a little and accord the hosts yet another skater.
This wasn’t a fluky bounce, it wasn’t the breaks just beating the boys. This was altogether preventable, and as such, sickeningly tragic.
Among big media only the Washington Times gets it right this morning, with Stephen Whyno’s game file laser beamed right in on Ward in that locker room. “I definitely let the squad down,” Ward commendably admitted. “I cost us the game with a terrible play.”
Some of those same sweet souls on Twitter last night will spend today attempting to pretend that last night’s outcome was singularly sour and but a lone defeat still mathematically possible to overcome. Dale Hunter, however, isn’t — his team isn’t even skating today. Absence from the rink after game 3 was merited by virtue of his guys’ almost inhuman exertion and sacrifice from triple overtime. Today his guys need to stay away from the rink to try and forget the dawning of that dark fate that ever seems to envelop this franchise most particularly when it’s on the cusp of postseason prosperity.
I am convinced that later today Capitals’ players will say all the right things about their remaining prospects in this series. But most of us know this morning, don’t we?
Some thoughts, too, this morning have to be directed at the Legend Coach who prior to a little before 10:00 last night seemed on the cusp of realizing something very close to a whole new legacy for the beleaguered franchise he captained to relevancy. For answering the call he did last autumn, surely he deserves better than this, no?
No, actually. Because Dale Hunter, perhaps better than anyone, knows the high hurdle this organization has to jump each and every spring. And it just got higher.
It’s savage and brutal imagining Joel Ward’s career here going forward. How in the world does he skate past this? All those regular season games to skate over the next three seasons of that gaudy (and unjustifiable) contract, and the odds of his seeing again a prosperity setup for his team the likes of this postseason . . . virtually unfathomable. That’s what makes his senseless act last night so sickening.