The Potomac is the body of water that flows closest to the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., but for an hour or so on a magical spring night, the nearest water seemed to be Hudson Bay.
Thanks to a wise pair of old-time referees, Don Koharski and Paul Devorski, the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals were allowed to play old-time hockey -- Hudson Bay rules, anything goes -- starting late in the second period of Game 7. Frankly, the post-lockout NHL never looked better. This was whatever-it-takes hockey, fully caffeinated, not the little-tug-on-the-arm-penalty hockey that has taken some of the oomph from the game since the 2004-05 lockout. If there is a degree of situational ethics to all of this -- often a penalty in the first period ceases to be a penalty in the third in a playoff game -- well, that was good enough for generations of NHL players. And it seemed to suit the teams Tuesday night.
When Washington defenseman John Erskine pulled down Sami Kapanen along the boards early in overtime to negate a Philadelphia two-on-one break out, it appeared somebody from the Bethesda Medical Center was going to have to come downtown and perform the Heimlich on the refs because surely they had swallowed their whistles. But like all good things, the laissez-faire approach of the officials that helped make this Game 7 even more compelling -- Patrick Thoresen plowed into Capitals defenseman Shaone Morrisonn, who played bumper cars with goalie Cristobal Huet, on the Flyers second goal -- had to end. Capitals defenseman Tom Poti took a tripping penalty a few minutes after the non-call on Erskine -- a first-period penalty, sure, but hardly an egregious foul by the standards that had been set -- and Philadelphia ended this extraordinary series nine seconds before the penalty expired when Joffrey Lupul shovelled a rebound past Huet for the 3-2 overtime win.
Certainly this wasn't the most elegant of the eight first-round series, only the most exciting. In five of the seven games, goals were scored in every period. For Washington, the series proved to be the playoff coming out of Alex Ovechkin and playmaker-turned-scorer Nicklas Backstrom and a return to an approximation of his old self by Sergei Fedorov, who dominated the faceoff circle and turned back the clock 10 years. For Philadelphia, it marked the resolve of Daniel Briere, who was brilliant after a disappointing regular season and was a showcase for the exceptionally mature play by the young Flyers like forwards Mike Richards and Jeff Carter and defenseman Braydon Coburn, who combined with Kimmo Timonen to keep a handle on Ovechkin until Game 6.
This was one of those delightful series you never wanted to see end. Given the way Koharski and Devorski were calling it, you thought you might have that chance.