In general, having lived through each and every Capitals’ postseason series, I’m not a big fan of surging to a 3-1 series lead and injecting needless drama into them by making unheralded opposition netminders look like Johnny Bower or Glen Hall.
Here we go again.
This trauma we suddenly confront, it’s all my fault. Last Thursday here I became overcome with hubris, and, blissfully dismissive of Capitals’ postseason history, announced this opening round series over.
I should have known better.
From where I sit, there are three principal reasons for the Caps being back in hockey postseason purgatory — besides the most basic fact of their being the Caps. First and foremost, they are an ungodly 1-for-30 on the power play. One for ten is bad; one for 20 is awful; one for 30 is . . . ‘Ishtar.’ Beyond awful. Every training camp every NHL club executes this drill wherein four defenders skate defending a power play with the butt ends of their sticks. It’s as if the extra-man Capitals in this opening round series have been attacking with the butt ends of their sticks. If the Caps had been merely putrid on the power play in this series it’s already over.
Jaroslav Halak however has also staked a compelling claim to joining the litany of middling netminders who’d prematurely terminate a promising Capitals’ postseason. This is a tale we’ve read before. His 53-save performance Monday night ranks among the greatest not only in Capitals’ postseason history but NHL postseason history. He was that out-of-his-mind difference-making. He needs one more stellar showing Wednesday night to enter Habs’ lore.
And then there’s the inexplicable power outage among some of the Capitals’ most electrifying offensive sources. Mike Green is goal-less and again standing out for the wrong reasons this postseason. Alexander Semin ranks no.224 among skaters in scoring this postseason, and trails teammate Boyd Gordon in scoring. It doesn’t matter who centers him, he’s a zero. He, too, has come up small for the second consecutive postseason. And while Semin has at least pumped shots on goal, Tomas Fleischmann (no. 236 among skaters in postseason scoring) can’t control pucks and cannot make plays. It’s hard to fathom his being in the game 7 lineup, as brutal as his play has been.
Actually, beyond the appalling stats there may be an overarching reason for the present predicament the Caps find themselves in — last Friday night’s opening 10 minutes. By not showing up for them the Caps took the proverbial skate blade off of their opponents’ throats. Seedings in the NHL’s postseason in this era of parity are largely irrelevant; not working in a playoff game is an ageless prescription for trouble. The longer the Caps allowed the Habs to hang around in game 5 the more they invited the curse of yesteryear to revisit. End this series in five as they should have and the Caps would have advanced accumulating merely poor stats in some important categories, and square off fresh against a badly beaten up Flyers’ club. There will be one set of loosely gripped sticks tomorrow night in Verizon Center and another with a life-terminating squeeze applied. The Habs tomorrow night will be playing with house money.
For the fourth consecutive post-lockout postseason series the Capitals will confront a seventh and decisive game. The ‘Cardiac Caps’ of the ’80s had nothing on these guys.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The Era of Ovechkin was believed to have represented a new dawn, bringing with it a permanent relegation to the ash heap of history all of those springtime folds of the past. This morning, every Capitals’ fan over the age of 35 is greying anew. Should his team be lucky enough to advance past game 7 don’t look for the under-experienced Capitals’ captain to chirp again about an opposing netminder having the shakes.
Every postseason series is a novel. The Habs, hockey’s and perhaps sports’ most storied franchise, are a worthy protagonist, never wavering in their conviction that they had a slugger’s chance against the 120-point, President’s trophy-winning, but still vulnerable Caps. They asked not to be judged by their cover.
And for their part the Caps brought to this tale a good-guys-always-finish-last aura, a tragedy in the making.
On Wednesday night, we learn whether this latest tale is a Hemingway epic of grace under pressure. . . or a Stephen King tome of terror.