April 16, 2014

OPINION: For Washington Capitals, history serves as no lesson

I’m sure you’ve seen the numbers now. The Washington Capitals have never won a Game 3 after taking a 2-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. After Monday night’s penalty-filled loss to the New York Rangers, they still haven’t. The rest of the numbers aren’t much more encouraging.

The Washington Post’s Sports Bog did us the favor of looking up the Caps record in each game of playoffs. The Caps are 12-25 all time in Game 3s. 10-20 in Game 5s. 3-8 in Game 7s. Is that interesting? Is it informative? Is it predictive? It all depends on your point of view.

Are you fatalistic? Do you want to believe in some sort of curse? Self-fulfilling prophecy?

Seriously, I said it last year, and I’m here to say it again: The Caps previous history is not predictive of future performance. They will win or lose this series on their own merit. To think otherwise discredits the talent, passion and dedication of the current players and coaches.

The opinion piece I wrote last year (and linked above) was in advance of Game 7 with the Bruins in the first round. I needn’t remind Caps fans of how that one turned out. Since this franchise is obviously incapable of winning Game 7s by evidence of their all-time losing record, the Caps obviously lost that Game 7 to the Bruins and were knocked out in the first round.

Wait, what?

Here’s what I wrote, in case you don’t want to click the link to go back and check.

There’s been plenty of disappointment to go around through the years. But you know what? None of that history was made with this group of players and this head coach. Sure, there are some very important similarities, but there are enough elements changed in the construction of the roster and the management thereof that any comparison to the Capitals previous Game Seven results is rendered moot.

Then, the Caps went out and won. They “beat the odds” and changed history! Until, of course, the next Game 7 when they didn’t, which reinforced all the ridiculousness that this organization and fan base is “cursed”.

A large segment of the Washington Capitals fan base likes to think that they have been tortured for their sins worse than that of other hockey fan bases. I’m here to tell you all something. You’re not that special.

You want tortured? One need to look no further than the Caps current opponent. The Rangers have won exactly one Stanley Cup in almost 70 years! 70! That makes the Caps wait since 1974 look like a drop in the bucket.

Winning championships in any sport is hard. Like, damn hard. Only one team wins every year. Winning is the result of good planning, strong effort, good health and luck. In hockey, the luck factor plays more heavily than in the other sports, which I suppose is why some folks start to believe in “curses.” Like an 0-7 record with a 2-0 lead is anything more than coincidence.

Alex Ovechkin had nothing to do with the Caps falling in Game 3 against the Penguins in 1992 or 1996. Adam Oates wasn’t a factor in Game 3 against Tampa Bay in 2003, as he was toiling for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (forgot that one, did you?). Karl Alzner and John Carlson had no impact in the 2009 Game 3 loss to Pittsburgh.

Mike Ribeiro, Troy Brouwer, Joel Ward, Martin Erat, Eric Fehr, Jack Hillen and Steve Oleksy — more than one-third of the players that dressed for the Capitals Monday night — were not on the roster of the team just two years ago that dropped Game 3 to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden, site of last night’s apparent pre-ordained loss.

I suppose if you want to believe in fate, or curses, or some other interference from the Hockey Gods, I guess there’s no stopping you.

But here’s an idea: how about giving some credence to the thought that the team that’s trailing 0-2 in a series is the more desperate team and therefore has a natural inclination to come out and play harder in Game 3, to fight for their playoff lives. Or the fact that of the seven losses by the Caps after leading 2-0, five of the Game 3s were played in the trailing team’s home arena?

Nah, that has nothing to do with it. Cause the Caps are cursed, that’s all.

If you want to ignore the fact the Caps took six minor penalties, go ahead (I’ll acknowledge that a couple of them might have been dubious calls). If you’d rather not credit the Rangers for coming out and defending their own ice and instead believe the league and the refs had some sort of conspiracy to keep the Rangers in this series, that’s on you.

For me, I saw a Caps team last night that played well in spurts, but had too many defensive breakdowns in their own end that led to Brian Boyle (2 goals in 38 games) and Aaron Asham (2 goals in 27 games) scoring goals. I saw a team that was pushed around physically at times. I saw a team that has taken too many undisciplined penalties all series continue to do so. I saw a team that was trying to be perfect on a 6-on-4 advantage instead of trying to create havoc and look for an opportunistic bounce.

I saw a team lose on the road to a team that was one point behind them in the season standings.

That wasn’t the result of a curse, or demons, or the Hockey Gods frowning on the Caps. It was hockey.

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