Given History, Caps Shouldn’t Be Looking Ahead to Semifinals Quite Yet
Hey Caps fans, before you start looking ahead to the Eastern Conference semifinals, don’t think that the quarterfinals with the Rangers is over even if your guys rocked the red on Thursday night and Saturday afternoon at Verizon Center.
A 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series heading into Game 3 tonight at New York is sweet. And yes, the Caps were in the same situation two springs ago and needed just five games to eliminate the Rangers. However, just two years before that, Washington led Pittsburgh 2-0 but lost Game 7 and the series at home nine nights later.
While much has changed since 2009, Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green were among the Caps’ biggest threats then and now and Jay Beagle and Eric Fehr were around, too.
And if we want to really talk Washington history, the Caps are a pathetic 2-4 after leading a best-of-seven series 2-0. Yes, that’s right, they’re 2-4 with a 2-0 lead. The losses came against Tampa Bay in 2003 and those dratted Penguins in 1992, 1996 and 2009 while the victories came against the Rangers in 2011 and Ottawa in 1998 (en route to Washington’s only trip to the Stanley Cup finals).
On the flip side, Caps goalie Braden Holtby has to be in the Rangers’ heads at least a little bit. Since Carl Hagelin stuffed a puck past Holtby 16:44 into Game 1, New York has gone 111:16 without scoring. That’s just 8:44 away from two entire scoreless games for an offense that includes 2004 Conn Smythe (playoffs MVP) Brad Richards, mega-talented Rick Nash and Caps-killer Derek Stepan.
“We’re just too stagnant,” said Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “We’re almost paralyzed.”
The 23-year-old Holtby, who didn’t become Washington’s starter until last year’s playoffs, has been fortunate that a couple of shots have clanged off the crossbar and posts behind him, but he held the Rangers to just 15 goals in the seven-game defeat in the 2012 Eastern semis. And so far this spring, he has surrendered a lone goal to the four that his teammates have put past New York’s 31-year-old superstar goalie Henrik Lundqvist, including Mike Green’s game-winner eight minutes into overtime of Game 2.
Green, who led all NHL defensemen with 12 goals during this lockout-shortened season despite missing 13 games with injuries, scored on the power play, the second such tally for Washington’s extra-man unit that was the league’s best this season.
“He’s obviously a huge part of our team,” Caps first-year coach Adam Oates said about Green. “When it’s a big power play, [the] place is going crazy, there’s electricity, you need guys out there who are calm. That’s one of his gifts.”
Green is certainly Washington’s most gifted defenseman, but he was modest about his huge goal.
“I just happened to be open and my goal was to get it by the first guy and try to hit the net,” said the 27-year-old Canadian, who’s tied with Ovechkin as the longest-tenured Cap after eight years in Washington.
Meanwhile, New York’s power play, which ranked just 23rd out of 30 during the season, is zero for seven against Holtby and Co.
“It comes down to: They score on their power play and we don’t,” lamented Rangers captain Ryan Callahan.
Said Oates, “The penalty kill [just 27th of 30 teams during the season] did a great job.”
With Game 1 goals from NHL goal-scoring king Ovechkin, 22-year-old left wing Marcus Johansson and 34-year-old left wing Jason Chimera, Green’s heroics in Game 2, and the superb play of Holtby and his defense, Washington is the only team in the Eastern Conference with a 2-0 series lead. And the Caps were 4-4 on the road in last year’s playoffs including a Game 2 triumph at Madison Square Garden.
But don’t start celebrating unless Washington wins Game 3. Not even the Caps could blow a 3-0 series lead, right? Although they swept Philadelphia in 1984 and the Islanders in 1986 in best-of-five series, they’ve never led a best-of-seven showdown by that whopping a margin so they’d be entering uncharted territory with a victory tonight.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin