The unexpectedly biggest Super Bowl blowout in 21 years was a fitting exclamation point to the weirdest weekend in Washington sports in quite a while.
Where to begin?
Why not with the Capitals, the closest thing that we have had to reliable professional excellence in D.C. in recent years? Winners of the Southeast Division in five of the past six seasons, the Caps were in good shape for the playoffs in mid-December, but Friday night’s 4-3 defeat in Detroit was their ninth in 11th games.
Michal Neuvirth, apparently coach Adam Oates’ latest favorite in the musical goalies competition, made 42 saves and Alex Ovechkin scored his league-leading 38th goal with just seven seconds left in regulation, but Washington still fell in overtime to slide to 14th in the NHL’s Eastern Conference in which only eight teams will participate in postseason.
Disheartened? Done? Not yet. Sunday at Verizon Center, the Caps never trailed and, despite allowing two third period goals, avenged Friday’s defeat with a 6-5 overtime triumph over the Red Wings on yet another critical tally by Ovechkin. Washington is in 11th place in the East this morning, a point out of eighth.
The other local pro winter sports team, the Wizards, started their weekend with Friday’s announcement that point guard John Wall will be their first representative in the NBA All-Star Game in six years.
The next night, Washington, which had failed yet again to top .500 for the first time since that 2007-08 season with a 110-103 loss at the Los Angeles Clippers last Wednesday, stunned league-leading Oklahoma City and Suitland’s Kevin Durant, the NBA’s top scorer, with a 96-81 victory on F Street. The Thunder, which had won 10 straight, hadn’t scored so few points all season as Wizards forward Trevor Ariza clamped down on Durant, who missed 13 of 21 shots.
The shocking victory moved Washington back to .500, tied for fifth in the Eastern Conference with Chicago. Over the last three weeks, the offbeat Wizards have beaten the Thunder and the two-time defending champion Miami, won at playoff-bound Golden State and Phoenix, and topped the Bulls twice while losing to lowly Boston, Detroit and Utah.
“When we play those good teams, we know we can get embarrassed in front of your home crowd, and it’s just as embarrassing on the road,” Wall said. “We lock in and we play team defense and we trust each other, and we are moving the ball offensively. We just got to find a way to do it against the mediocre teams.”
Speaking of mediocre teams, previously powerful Georgetown had lost five straight, matching its longest skid under 10th-year coach John Thompson III, heading into Saturday’s game against seventh-ranked Michigan State. So of course, the Hoyas, dominated on defense and the boards in surprising the Spartans 64-60 in New York to improve to 12-9.
Maryland, which had lost its three ACC road games in January by an average of 18 points, went to Blacksburg on Saturday having lost four of six overall to slip to 12-9 overall, 4-4 in the ACC. Coach Mark Turgeon’s Terps responded with an 80-60 blowout of the lousy Hokies.
George Washington, which was knocking on the door of the Top 25 after winning five in a row to move to 17-3 overall, 5-1 in the Atlantic 10, couldn’t overcome the absence of its top three guards and lost 75-65 at Dayton. Kethan Savage is out until March with a broken foot, Joe McDonald injured a hip in last Wednesday’s victory over LaSalle, and Maurice Creek was too ill to play for coach Mike Lonergan.
The area’s other pleasant college hoops surprise, American, continued to roll. Saturday’s 63-57 victory over visiting Holy Cross was the 11th straight for first-year coach Mike Brennan. Picked to finish ninth in the Patriot League, the Eagles (14-7 overall) stayed perfect in their conference at 10-0.
Maryland’s women, who had averaged fewer than seven losses during the previous eight seasons, had shockingly lost three straight after a 16-1 start, prior to Sunday’s game at Syracuse. Coach Brenda Frese’s Terps romped 89-64 to improve to 5-3 in the ACC.
That made sense as did yet another defeat on Saturday for the men of George Mason (7-14), Navy (7-14) and Howard (5-17), but there’s no arguing that it was a strange weekend for Washington’s teams as the NFL team from Washington state convincingly won its first title.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011.