A funny thing happened with a few seconds left: Pat Kaleta played to the whistle.
The clock was winding down and most of the players away from the puck stopped skating, but not Pat Kaleta. The puck was in the offensive zone, there was some time left, and so he went after the Washington player and gave him a bump just before the horn sounded. It was clean but the Capitals didn’t like it, and he got a few shoves as he skated over to the Buffalo bench for the five minute break.
The thing is, he didn’t just sit there for five minutes. He grabbed a drink and started talking to players, trying to get them ready for overtime. I have no idea what was said, but he gave Clarke MacArthur a fist bump, so I’m sure it was something better than “let’s see what happens.”
So what does happen? Washington gets a standing ovation from their home crowd. The Southeast Division is theirs. The players act professional and don’t celebrate, but I can’t believe that’s the kind of news that prepares you for overtime. Right then it was official: Washington is getting a two or three seed in the playoffs. Aside from a seeding battle with New Jersey, their work for the season is done.
Pat Kaleta didn’t touch the ice in the overtime. He didn’t score the winning goal. He knew he wouldn’t anyway; once that third period horn went off he was done for the night. The difference is that he played to that horn, and when it was over he didn’t stop there. This guy has played 97 games in his career. He played just over ten minutes last night. He is one of the youngest, most inexperienced, and arguably one of the least talented hockey players on the team; but there he was talking up the boys when it was do or die.
Federov gives the puck away. Connolly dives to break up a pass and takes control in the Washington zone with one man back. He’s already set up two goals and knows he’s not beating the defenseman by himself. Pominville rushed to tag up and heads for the net just as he slids the puck out in front.
It’s a play that lasts five seconds but is worth so much more. The sense to know that pass is coming. The focus to take it away and feel Pominville skating hard. The recognition to get onside and head for the net. All of these things take skill, but broken down second by second it’s a matter of focus and determination and maybe just a bit of luck.
It’s another example two players coming up when it counts. Connolly was everywhere all night, and Pominville did what he had to and got in the right spot at the right time. There was no superhuman effort from either player, but they got it done with the right mix of heart and skill last night.
Regardless of the playoff picture, this is the kind of game you want to see from this team. This is what they can and should do on a nightly basis: play the entire game like it’s the most important game of the season. The same intensity can’t be there night in and night out, but that 22 year old voice should be matched on the bench. I’m sure there were others, but if Pat Kaleta can speak up on this team, what player should remain mute?
This is the picture that says it all. The guy who set the tone both in action and words and the guy who answered the call. Both players celebrate the result of hard work. If you get 82 games of this you get post season hockey and a chance for something special.
Right now, I’ll settle for just five.