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As sports weekends go in the Nation's Capital, local teams may have just finished a rare great one.
Think about it. The Capitals won an opening-round Stanley Cup playoff game. The Wizards rallied to win and clinch an 8th-seed in the NBA playoffs. The Nationals won a series on the road. Plus the Mystics opened their season, DC United took to the pitch, and even the Washington Football Team and Hokies down in Blacksburg had an eventful last few days.
Not bad. Not bad at all. Here are the details:
Capitals Win A Postseason Thriller
Caps fans had their hearts in their throats early when starting goaltender Vitek Vanecek left in the first quarter due to injury, leaving the game in Craig Anderson’s hands. Anderson only had two starts this season, his last win was in May of 2017, and while they said he was 39, it was just barely. He'll be 40 this week. So on top of concerns for injuries to TJ Oshie and the return of Alexander Ovechkin from injury, Caps fans had plenty to worry about.
But soon after realizing Anderson was even on the team, Caps fans realized they were seeing a calm, experienced goaltender who kept the Boston Bruins in check. Tom Wilson scored the game’s opening goal, showing he can score AND fight, then Jake DeBrusk responded – which was also the play on which Vanecek left with an injury. The call-and-respond action continued in the second period, when Brendan Dillon and Nick Ritchie traded goals, and the teams held each other scoreless throughout the rest of regulation.
Under five minutes into overtime, Oshie launched a long shot just inside the blue line that Nic Dowd deflected into the net to seal the deal for the Caps. Capital One Arena went from delirious to silent as a replay review was conducted to see if a Cap might have been offside on the play. Minutes later, it was announced "good goal," the arena exploded in noise, and hopefully the mood will remain that way in D.C. leading up to Game Two on Monday at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Illya Samsonov, Vanecek, Evgeny Kuznetsov and/or Michal Kempny may return for Game Two, though their statuses are not entirely clear at this point.
Wizards Keep a Good Thing Going
Speaking of Capital One Arena, when news came out that Bradley Beal would play in Sunday’s regular season finale, the Wizards fanbase collectively exhaled. The league’s No. 2 scorer had missed the previous three games due to a hamstring injury, and the Wizards dropped two of those games, putting themselves into a tougher position than it appeared they would be in.
Still, they entered Sunday as winners of 16 of their last 22 games, and one more win against the Hornets would give them the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs – or at least entering the play-in portion.
At the onset, the game looked ugly for Washington. They trailed by 14 points through the first 12 minutes, and Beal was scoreless until midway through the second quarter. Rui Hachimura, Ish Smith and Robin Lopez kept the team afloat initially, and Beal’s first bucket trimmed the deficit to three points – the closest it got until deep into the fourth quarter.
The Wizards trailed by four points at halftime and continued a seesaw battle until late in the third quarter, when Charlotte went on a 12-0 run to take a 15-point lead.
That’s when Washington’s backcourt heated up. Over a six-minute period from late in the third to early in the fourth, Beal and Russell Westbrook spearheaded a 22-8 run, capped off by a pair of free throws by the point guard.
Charlotte’s top guard trio made the Wizards work to take the lead, but they briefly did so with 6:14 left in the game – with a pair of free throws from Beal – and retook it for good on a Beal layup with under three minutes to play.
In spite of some spotty offense down the stretch, Washington held Charlotte scoreless in the last 3:12 of Sunday’s game. The Hornets missed their final seven field goal attempts, three of which were by Terry Rozier – their leading scorer in the game and throughout the entire season.
With the win, the Wizards will face the Celtics in Boston at 9:00 p.m. ET on Tuesday. Another victory in that game will earn them the de facto No. 7 seed and a first round series against the Brooklyn Nets, whereas losing would force them to host the winner of the No. 9/10 play-in between the Hornets and Indiana Pacers – for the rights to face the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers.
Regardless of what happens, the Wizards’ climb from 17-32 to where they are now is almost unimaginable – except for the fact that the Nationals did almost the same thing in 2019.
Nats Win Two of Three vs. Arizona
In truth, the most important news happened in the series finale against the Phillies. The Nationals had lost four straight games, and that – or maybe something else – prompted Dave Martinez to tweak his batting order. Most notably, he gave Kyle Schwarber the cleanup position that had belonged to Josh Bell, bumping Bell down to sixth, with Starlin Castro between them. Those changes led to a 5-1 victory on Thursday, and all three of them were very productive in it.
Nevertheless, the Nationals had lost seven of their last nine games ahead of their trip to Phoenix. The positive developments continued late into Friday night, en route to a 17-2 win. Max Scherzer struggled to keep his pitch count down, but he was effective enough to throw five shutout innings. The offense carried them to a very decisive victory, though. The Nats had 22 hits, seven players had more than one, and Yan Gomes had five. Schwarber also homered and reached base five times.
Saturday was far less kind. Joe Ross gave up eight runs on eight hits over four innings, including a three-run homer by Eduardo Escobar – one of the two deep flies he hit in the game. Despite only being outhit 12-10, Washington was outscored 11-4, largely because the Nats went 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position, in spite of the fact that they faced a subpar starting pitcher.
Sunday’s game was quiet for a long time. Erick Fedde and Luke Weaver dueled for the first four innings, before Weaver exited the game – and packed up his luggage – due to unapparent shoulder discomfort. Fedde’s dominance continued through seven innings, and as soon as he left, the offense gave him three runs of support. The top of the eighth inning proved to be the difference in the game, and the Nationals earned a 3-0 victory and a series win, boosting their overall record to 16-20.
They have a four-game series at Wrigley Field up next, followed by a decision regarding Stephen Strasburg, who threw 4.1 shutout innings in a rehab start for AAA Rochester on Sunday.
Other Teams in Early-Season Actions
The Mystics opened their season on Saturday with a 70-56 loss to the Chicago Sky. Tina Charles scored a team-high 14 points, but the ladies struggled from the field, converting on only 25 percent of their shots and four of their 30 three-point attempts. They’ll return to action against Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner and the Phoenix Mercury (1-1 so far this season) on Tuesday night.
DC United finds itself at 2-3 through five games, residing in eighth place in the MLS’s Eastern Conference. They knocked off Chicago Fire FC 1-0 on Thursday and will face Orlando City FC (1-0 with three draws) at 8:00 p.m. ET tonight (Sunday).
Offseason News and Notes
On the heels of a critically-acclaimed outstanding performance in the NFL Draft, the Washington Football Team has stayed active. The most notable addition they have made recently is veteran defensive back Bobby McCain. He was released by the Miami Dolphins, but he’s had a successful career and appears likely to be the team’s starting free safety this season.
Fans may also be intrigued by Norv Turner’s appearance onsite with the team. Their former head coach is the father of offensive coordinator Scott Turner, and Ron Rivera has offered him an open invitation to show up whenever he wants – something that would’ve never been, and wasn’t, allowed by former regimes.
In the college ranks, the Virginia Tech Hokies have also seen their share of activity recently.
Michael Durr, who basketball coach Mike Young recently picked up off the transfer market as a much-needed post presence, has re-entered the transfer portal. Additionally, Young recently lost his Associate Head Coach, Chester Frazier, to Illinois. The departures of Durr and Frazier have each been discussed in previous stories here on the site.
There are reports suggesting Mike Jones, the head coach of DMV high school powerhouse DeMatha Catholic, is the heavy frontrunner to replace Frazier. It would be a major addition for the program – particularly on the recruiting front, as DeMatha has produced a bevvy of NBA players – but no official announcement has been made yet.
Defensive tackle DaShawn Crawford has also placed himself into the portal, removing himself from Justin Fuente’s squad on the gridiron. While this would’ve been a major loss if it had happened a year ago, he was only a modest contributor in 2020 and his position has been added to this offseason, namely by Jordan Williams from Clemson, who is a shoe-in to start for the Hokies this season.
What Lies Ahead
As mentioned, Game Two of the playoffs for the Capitals is on Monday night, as is the start of a four-game series for the Nationals against the Cubs. Initial reports seem to indicate that due to his performance in Game 1, Anderson may be the starting goalie in Game 2. Meanwhile, the probable pitching matchups against Chicago are ex-Cubs ace Jon Lester vs. Adbert Alzolay, Patrick Corbin vs. former Orioles prospect Zach Davies, Max Scherzer vs. Jake Arrieta (an MLB Network game for out-of-market audiences) and Joe Ross vs. Trevor Williams.
The second game of the Nats series will coincide with Wizards vs. Celtics, for the rights to play the Nets. The Caps will face the Bruins in Boston the next day, as well as every other day thereafter – through Sunday, if necessary, before returning to Washington.
Of course, the Mystics also return to action on Tuesday. Lastly, if the Wizards lose on Tuesday, their elimination game towards postseason contention will begin at 8:00 p.m. ET on Thursday.
There’s lots of action upcoming for D.C.’s teams, which makes it a great time to be a sports fan in the DMV region.