Caps fighting familiar demons, themselves
Did you hear that noise last night? I think it was around 10pm. It wasn't a crash or an explosion. It was more like a thud or a thump, but I am certain I heard something.
I am pretty sure it was the sound of thousands of Washington Capitals fans closing their windows after crawling back in off the proverbial ledge. The Capitals edged the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-4 to knot their first round playoff series at two games apiece. After falling behind 2-1 in the series through three overtime contests, Washington will return to Verizon Center with the home ice advantage intact.
District puck heads can breath a sigh of relief, but still have legitimate reason for concern. Alexander Ovechkin became a Capital in 2005 and first led Washington into the playoffs following the 2007-08 season. In the Ovechkin era, they advanced to the playoffs in eight of the last nine seasons and have never advanced past the second round, or conference semi-finals.
This tale of post-season woe includes two seasons (2009-10, 2015-16) in which the Capitals earned the President's Trophy for most points in the regular season and still managed an April/early-May bed wetting. Prior to the Game 4 victory, local sports media were fanning the flames of a local freak out.
Barry Svrluga wrote of the unavoidable specter of playoff failures past in his Washington Post column:
"The Capitals are not normal participants in playoff hockey. They have their history, and it colors every tense situation." [Foreboding, no?]
Thomas Boswell, also of the Post, implored the Capitals to not be "choking dogs" that "turn what could still be a manageable situation into a season-crushing disaster."
The Capitals playoff failure narrative goes way beyond the DMV. Joe Starkey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette led his Tuesday, April 18 mailbag with the topic. Starkey, in typical snarky Pittsburgh Penguin homer fashion, claimed "Alex Ovechkin perfected the art of losing before the conference final every...single...year."
Starkey pulled an historic nugget to illuminate how deeply playoff tension can grip Washington hockey fans. He quoted a 1996 column by then-Washington Post sports columnist Tony Kornheiser:
"You've come to this page to see me write that the Capitals are - well, you know what they are.
And I have to write it, because I write it every year.
Because they do it every year.
Same old story: What's red, white and blue, and plays golf in April?
Excuse me, what's bronze, white and blue [different color scheme back then], and plays golf in April?
The Washington Capitals.
That column came after the Capitals had blown a 2-0 series lead to the Penguins and exited the playoffs prior to the Stanley Cup finals for the 14th consecutive year. This happened to be a first round exit and they were up 2-0 coming home with three of the next four at home. Kornheiser's disdain was and is understandable.
This time Washington won a game they needed to win. Time to load up the bandwagon. Those that have been here a while know this isn't going to be easy though.
That noise from last night was NOT followed by a click -- the click of those fans locking their windows. Capitals fans might not need to jump, but they will most likely want easy access to that ledge again this spring. Go Caps!