Capitals vs. Megadeth – A mega-playoff preview
Capitals vs. Megadeth is not in fact the title of a new Godzilla movie (although admittedly it would be an awesome title for one). No, it’s a way for me to combine two of my life’s pleasures – hockey and heavy music.
On one hand we have the Washington Capitals, my favorite hockey team, who have waited an entire year for this point – the chance to make amends for last year’s epic Round 1 flameout to the Montreal Canadiens.
It’s been a more circuitous route this year, but the Caps are right back where they were last year: top seed in the Eastern Conference and champions of the Southeast Division. Their opponent is the eighth-seeded New York Rangers, the team the Caps put out two years ago in a hard-fought seven games.
On the other hand, we have one of the true titans of thrash metal, Megadeth. A member of the so-called Big 4 (with Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax), Megadeth is led by one of metal’s most enduring characters, Dave Mustaine. With his nasally voice and poofy red hair, Mustaine is easily identifiable.
But what separates him from the pack is his life offstage. Besides multiple feuds with other bands and former band members, he was also a notorious addict in his younger days. Mustaine has been to drug or alcohol rehab somewhere in the neighborhood of 13 times before becoming a father and born-again Christian later in life.
He was also the original guitar player for Metallica, and Dave has spent the majority of his career fighting with his ex-bandmates and then making up with them. Mustaine was kicked out of Metallica for being a violent drunk, which is quite a feat when you consider the music press once dubbed Metallica as “Alcoholica.”
Despite his offstage antics, Mustaine has always been one of the best guitar players in the business and one of the few songwriters in metal to write politically and socially conscious lyrics.
Here’s how this will work: I will present my ultimate Megadeth mixtape and link individual songs to something to do with the Caps-Rangers series. These are strictly my song choices, so don’t ask me, “Why isn’t this in there?” I’ll also include the album the song is on in case you want to download this stuff yourself.
1. “Holy Wars…The Punishment Due” (album: “Rust In Peace)
The opener to the classic “Rust In Peace” album is a combination of two songs: “Holy Wars” is about religious warfare, inspired by a tour stop through Ireland in the late 1980s when the Irish Republican Army was selling bootleg Megadeth shirts to raise money for their cause, something that disturbed Mustaine. The second part, “The Punishment Due,” opens with Marty Friedman’s flamenco guitar break, and is about one of Mustaine’s other loves, comic books, specifically The Punisher character.
The playoffs are hockey’s version of a holy war: a two-month, tension-fueled ride that leaves everybody, even the winners, feeling like a lump of jelly. Playoff hockey is a totally different animal than the regular season. The intensity gets cranked up to 11. The Caps have spent the entire season preparing for this. They traded for guys with playoff experience, they changed from a freewheeling offensive minded team to more of a two-way team. Their stars sacrificed stats. Time to find out if they’re ready.
2. “Dialectic Chaos/This Day We Fight!” (album: “Endgame”)
Technically, this is two songs, but they run right into one another and are usually played together by the band in concert. Both songs, from the band’s shred-tastic 2009 album, “Endgame,” feature some amazing guitar work by Mustaine and Chris Broderick. “Dialectic Chaos” is instrumental, while “This Day We Fight!” takes its lyrical inspiration from the “Lord Of The Rings” trilogy and the writings of Sun Tzu.
If I were in charge of the Caps’ iPod before games, these are the two tracks I’d play before playoff games. “This Day We Fight!” in particular is fast as hell and would drill it into everybody’s head that this is where we find out whether we got what it takes to win the Stanley Cup.
3. “Washington is Next!” (album: “United Abominations)
From the band’s politically charged 2007 album “United Abominations,” this track is a rebuke of the worst excesses of the Bush era, one of the most political songs the band has ever written.
For the Caps, the interpretation should be, “Pittsburgh has won, Chicago has won, we’re next!” This especially true for captain Alex Ovechkin, who has seen his chief rival, Sidney Crosby, win a cup and an Olympic gold medal at his expense. The cup is all that is missing from Ovi’s sparking resume.
It’s been pretty apparent from Ovechkin’s play the last 25 games that he’s ready to go. The guy has been flying around, piling up points and introducing dangles – hockey parlance for fancy puckhandling ¬– that I didn’t even know he had. He wants it. If the other 19 guys buy in, Washington could be next.
4. “99 Ways To Die” (album: “Hidden Treasures)
I’ve always enjoyed this b-side, which was originally featured on the “Beavis and Butt-Head Experience” compilation album in 1993 and later on the band’s rarities collection “Hidden Treasures.” The song is about the stupidity of gun violence.
In this series, the Caps have fewer than 99 ways to die, mainly three and their names are: Lundqvist, Staal and Dubinsky, as in Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, defenseman Mark Staal and forward Brandon Dubinsky.
Lundqvist has long established his credentials as one of the top goalies in the world and is certainly a guy that could steal a series on his own. He almost did when these teams locked up two years ago, before faltering at the end. Then, the Caps were able to solve King Henrik then by shooting high. Will they go back to that this time?
Staal has grown into the Rangers top shutdown defenseman, and he will be the guy with the assignment of keeping Ovechkin in check. A big, rangy d-man, Staal will likely try to play Ovechkin tight, getting in the way of shots when Ovi tries his favorite move – shooting between the defenseman’s legs. But how will Staal play him the first time Ovi pulls off a ridiculous dangle and scores? Will he change? How Staal fares against the Great 8 will go along way towards determining who wins this series.
Finally, there’s Dubinsky, the Rangers all-heart performer who can do a little bit of everything. Dubinsky is a guy who has given the Caps fits in the past, and if he’s going offensively, the Caps could be in big trouble. His line will also likely have the checking duties against Ovechkin’s line. A big thing in the Caps’ favor is the loss of Dubinsky’s running mate, Ryan Callahan, who is out for the season with a broken ankle. Together, those two can raise hell, especially on the penalty kill.
5. “Hangar 18” (album: “Rust In Peace”)
One of my favorite Megadeth songs for its amazing guitar work. Players of “Guitar Hero” can attest to the difficulty of playing this song. There aren’t many lyrics, but for those that recognize the title, the song deals with alien cover-ups.
Speaking of conspiracies, how is it the Caps have basically drawn the exact same opponent as the one that put them out last year?
New York is almost a carbon copy of Montreal last year, a tough-minded defensive team that blocks tons of shots, with enough skill up front to burn the Caps on the counterattack and a goalie that can be lights-out if he’s hot. Just like Montreal last year, the Rangers have frustrated the Caps in the regular season, including beatings of 7-0 and 6-0, the latter on Verizon Center ice.
It’s almost a forgone conclusion that John Tortorella’s hard-working squad will try to duplicate Montreal’s strategy: sag in the middle to block shots from the outside, crowd Ovechkin when he tries to go wide, make sure the goalie sees all shots from outside that aren’t blocked and turn any Caps’ mistakes into goals.
6. “Five Magics” (album: “Rust In Peace”)
My third and final selection from “Rust In Peace” is one of Mustaine’s “fantasy songs,” inspired by Lyndon Hardy’s fantasy novel “Master of the Five Magics.”
Caps coach Bruce Boudreau has pulled off a bit of magic of his own this season, abandoning the free-wheeling offensive style that worked so well in the regular season the last three years, in favor of a responsible, defense-first system that demanded better two-way play, particularly from the forwards. The comparison is to how the Detroit Red Wings of the 1990s, also once a freewheeling, high-offense team with a history of playoff flameouts, turned themselves into a two-way juggernaut that won three Stanley Cups in five years.
The system was put in for this moment, the playoffs, where we’ll find out if the changes work or if it’s back to the drawing board to think of something else.
7. “Peace Sells” (album: “Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?)
Possibly the most recognizable song in the Megadeth catalog for its bass line (which MTV used as a bumper after its news segments for years), as well as its video and appearance in “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.” In addition to that, it has some of Mustaine’s most sarcastic lyrics – poking fun at people who think metalheads are unintelligent dummies – and the breakdown at the end is tremendous.
Since he was acquired from New Jersey, Jason Arnott has been a guy who knows what sells come playoff time. The man who scored the Cup-winning goal for the Devils a decade ago has fit right in as part of the team’s leadership structure. Besides scoring a host of clutch goals for the Caps since coming over, Arnott has also managed to get through to the ultra-talented but not-always-there-mentally Alexander Semin, a guy the Caps will need to score goals if they have any hopes of making a deep run.
Another key veteran will be Mike Knuble, the 38-year-old, crease-crashing right wing who rides in the sidecar with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Knuble is maybe the most respected guy in the locker room, but his real contribution will have to come by making Lundqvist’s life miserable in front of the net.
Blue-collar guys like Arnott and Knuble need to step up in the playoffs, and the Caps do have plenty of grit with Brooks Laich, Matt Hendricks, Boyd Gordon and the Ranger-killer himself, Matt Bradley. Don’t be surprised if one of those guys makes a huge difference if the Caps win this series.
8. “Good Morning/Black Friday” (album: “Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying)
My favorite song on the “Peace Sells…” album, the nearly seven-minute song starts with the slow intro of “Good Morning” before launching into the full-on assault of “Black Friday.” Strangely enough, the song was inspired by a guy who was supposed to be Megadeth’s drummer but was found to indulge in tall tales and hung out with dodgy characters.
The dichotomy of these songs applies to the Caps biggest question mark heading into the playoffs: the conundrum of which of the Caps young goaltenders is going to step up. Michal Neuvirth has been the man most of the season and has a winning pedigree at the minor league level, having won back-to-back championships with the Caps’ farm team, the Hershey Bears. He will likely be the man starting Game 1 Wednesday night.
On the other hand, Semyon Varlamov has more experience in the NHL playoffs and helped knock the Rangers out two years ago.
Skillwise, Varly would seem to be the guy who could steal games and series by himself. But Neuvy is the more technically sound of the two, has won championships and has never had the injury problems Varlamov has had. How Boudreau handles these two will be the most intriguing subplot of the series.
9. “In My Darkest Hour” (album: So Far…So Good…So What!”)
In Megadeth’s earlier years, Mustaine didn’t write a lot of personal songs. This one was an exception, written about the death of ex-Metallica bandmate Cliff Burton. While the “So Far…” album is probably the least notable of Megadeth’s early work, this track has become a longtime live favorite.
For the past two years, the playoffs have been the darkest hour for two Capitals in particular: defenseman Mike Green and winger Alexander Semin.
Green is expected back for the playoffs after missing most of the second half of the season with a head injury. His last two postseasons have been dreadful disasters, as teams have thrown Green off his game by hitting him constantly. Granted, Green has also dealt with injuries the last two years, but if he wants to be mentioned in the same breath with Chicago’s Duncan Keith or L.A.’s Drew Doughty, he’s got to show up this year.
Semin took a lot of heat for his series against Montreal last year and rightly so. When he’s on, there may not be a more talented player in the league. When Semin’s head isn’t in the game though, he takes careless stick penalties, launches shots from all over the ice and tries to toe-drag five guys every time down ice. Witness his goalless, 40-shot performance against the Habs last season.
Semin’s been at his best this year when paired with Arnott, a veteran who seems to get through to the mercurial Russian. If the man known as “Sasha Minor” can add some needed secondary scoring after the top line of Ovechkin, Backstrom and Knuble, it will go a long way towards the Caps advancing.
10. “Trust” (album: “Cryptic Writings)
At the time the “Cryptic Writings” album came out in 1996, Megadeth was writing more accessible songs, and Mustaine was writing more personal lyrics, none more so than this song about failed relationships. It was one of the band’s most successful singles.
For the Caps, trust is what they will have to earn back after the debacle that was last season. Many fans, like myself, are on needles and pins about what will happen during the playoffs. I’m not sure we fully trust the team yet. The best way to get it back? Get out of the first round in less than seven games – something they’ve never done under Boudreau – hold on to series leads and make a deep run.
11. “Train Of Consequences” (album: “Youthanasia”)
Probably my favorite hook Megadeth has written, “Train Of Consequences” is a song about the dangers of gambling addiction.
Where to begin with what the consequences will be if the Caps fail to win this series? Let’s start with Boudreau. If Gabby fails to get this team out of this round, fans will be calling for his head big time. Another first-round exit may even get General Manager George McPhee and owner Ted Leonsis thinking about pulling the trigger on a coaching change.
For Ovechkin, it would mean yet another year of hearing media (especially the Canadian media) and opposing fans call him a choker. A guy you can’t go all the way with.
Leonsis, probably the most accessible owner in pro sports, would see his email box flooded by angry fans demanding this guy or that guy be fired and or traded.
The list goes on and on. Needless to say, there may not be a team in the league that needs to get out of this round more than the Capitals.
12. “Foreclosure Of A Dream” (album: “Countdown To Extinction”)
Strangely enough, this is the only song I have here from the band’s most successful album, commercially speaking. But it’s a good one to end with, since “Foreclosure Of A Dream” is about the death of the American Dream and the breakdown of the American political system.
The death of a dream is also what awaits the loser of this series. If it’s the Caps, it will be another year of wondering what happened. Of answering the same questions again. Of being labeled chokers. Of hearing more taunting from Penguins and Flyers fans. It’s also almost guaranteed that my next album/sports blog will somehow involve The Cure’s “Disintegration” album, probably the most depressing album in the history of sound. And we really don’t want that do we?