Remember back when the Caps made that little run to the Stanley Cup Finals over a decade ago? Remember all that talk of burying demons of playoff failure past, specifically those particularly spiteful demons who would cause the choking away of 3-1 series leads? They were dead. Gone. Exorcised, to use the popular cliché of the time, in the wake of a trio of 3-1 series leads successfully held on to in wins over the Boston Bruins, Ottawa Senators, and Buffalo Sabres (they had a pretty good goalie too, no?).
There may be, however, another, similarly insidious demon that has until this point lived latently, only mildly detected in the hearts of die-hard Capitals’ fans: the demon of Winning The First Two Games On The Road Only To Lose The Series. Such a gruesome fate has befallen two Capitals’ teams in the past, two teams looking to slay the dragon of first-round underdog-ness. The ’95-’96 team took the first two games in Pittsburgh then lost the next four. The ’02-’03 Jagr-infested iteration won twice in Tampa before again dropping the next four, against a John Torterella-led squad no less. Kind of see where we’re going here? (Disclosure: I have a personal interest in seeing this matter settled, having been present for key games in both series: the epic, miss-school-the-next-day 4 OT Game 4 loss to the Penguins on April 24, 1996 [curses upon Petr Nedved for now and for all time], and an overall letdown of a Game 4 loss, 3-1, to the Lightning on April 16, 2003).
Clearly, there is only one way to settle this demon’s hash once and for all, and we chastise ourselves, as the theoretical leading purveyors of optimism in DC (if only because of our blog’s name and not because of our frequency of posting), for failing to see it before now: the Capitals must BE the favorite who drops the first two games at home before coming back to take the series against a lesser foe. Perhaps then, and only then, will all past playoff shortcomings be expunged, moreso if the Caps happen to win one of their games in four overtimes or more.
So, there may yet be a greater (subconscious) reason for the Caps dropping these first two games in a building in which they have, for six months, owned the opposition. It could be a step towards, finally, for good, putting behind all those bad memories from the past two decades. If that's the case, these painful losses in games we thought would be pushovers will have been worth it.
Not over. Definitely not over.