When New York’s Brandon Dubinsky put the puck behind Michal Neuvirth with a nifty move and 98 seconds left on Sunday, it was that time again.
The Washington Capitals were beginning to gag on another lead in a playoff series. Caps fans have been down this road so often and yet they feel like Charlie Brown who knows that this time Lucy won’t yank the football away and send him flying as he tries to kick it.
This year has to be different, right? It should be. The Caps have adjusted wonderfully to the defense-first style that coach Bruce Boudreau implemented during their ugly midseason losing streak. Washington is the top seed in the East. New York is the last seed. And yet…this is the sixth time that the Caps have won the first two games of a best-of-seven series and the results have been uglier than the national debt.
In both 1992 and 1996 against the archrival Pittsburgh Penguins, the Caps won the first two games but lost the series. The latter defeat was especially galling since Washington came home for Game 3 having won the first two games in the Igloo only to lose the next four (one in quadruple overtime). Game 6, a one-goal defeat, would be the final playoff game played at Capital Centre.
Two years later, the Caps were better with the lead, jumping on top of Ottawa 2-0 and cruising to a 4-1 series triumph. However, in 2003, Washington matched its shame of 1996, winning the first two games at Tampa Bay before losing four straight.
For those who think that this pre-Ovechckin history is irrelevant to today’s Caps, remember that Ovie and Co. won the first two games against Pittsburgh in the 2009 Eastern semis only to lose the series to Sidney Crosby and the Pens 4-3.
That’s a horrid 1-4 record after winning the first two games of a playoff series.
And last year, top-seeded Washington led eighth-seeded Montreal 3-1 but lost the series in seven.
In other words, when it comes to the Caps and the playoffs, no lead is safe. If Neuvirth, who looked shaky during the second half of Game 3, doesn’t regain his previous form on Wednesday and Washington loses Game 4 at Madison Square Garden, the series would only be tied.
But given the Caps’ playoff history, that deadlock would feel like an anvil on their shoulders. It’s hard to see a road game for a team with a 2-1 series lead being a must-win, but then it’s hard to fathom how often this franchise has let a series get away going all the way back to its first blown 2-0 advantage in a five-game matchup with the New York Islanders in 1985, five months before Ovechkin was born.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the former President of the Pro Football Writers of America. A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan during the 2010 Redskins season, he returned to the station as its blogger in March.