The Washington Capitals’ 1-0 loss to the New York Rangers Sunday set up a Game 7 in D.C. Monday night, in which the Caps will not only be fighting against the Blueshirts but against a spectacularly dubious playoff history.
The Caps and Rangers are facing off in the playoffs for the third season in a row. Last year, the Rangers prevailed in seven games in a second-round series that included a triple-OT Game 3 won by the Rangers, 2-1. In 2011, top-seeded Washington defeated the Rangers in five games in the first round.
In this opening-round series, the Caps won the first two games. The goaltenders have been outstanding, with New York’s Henrik Lundqvist recording a 1.91 goals-against average and Washington’s Braden Holtby sporting a GAA of 1.77. Each goalie has a shutout.
But the Caps will be fighting the ghosts of the past as well.
Stars Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom have led Washington to six consecutive playoff appearances but have never advanced past the second round. In 2009 and 2010, the Caps blew two-game leads to lose playoff series.
No NHL team has lost more playoff series as the higher seed in the last 30 years (10 times), lost more three- or four-overtime playoff games (four) or lost more series in which they led by two games (eight) than the Caps. Of the series listed below, the Caps lost five of them in Game 7, one in an elimination Game 5 and twice they didn’t even get to Game 7 after winning the first two games.
- 1985 - The Capitals finished with the third-best record in the NHL and won six games more than the New York Islanders but lost a first-round series to the Isles 3-2 after blowing a two-game lead.
- 1987 - The Caps lost in the first round to the Islanders despite again finishing with a better record than New York during the regular season. The series ended with the “Easter Epic,” the NHL’s first quadruple overtime game since 1951. Pat LaFontaine scored the game-winner for New York. Washington led 3-1 in the series.
- 1992 - Washington finished 11 points better than Pittsburgh during the regular season but fell to the Penguins in seven games after blowing a 3-1 series lead. The Caps scored 20 goals in the first four games. This may have been one of Washington’s best teams ever, with Hall of Famers Dino Ciccarelli and Rod Langway along with Caps stalwarts Peter Bondra, Dale Hunter and Kevin Hatcher. After the series, Caps fans couldn’t believe the constant failures in the playoffs and couldn’t take any more. This was more than two decades ago.
- 1995 - The Caps again blew a 3-1 first-round lead in losing to Pittsburgh in seven games. The Penguins won Game 5 in overtime, 6-5. Pittsburgh then outscored Washington 10-1 in the final two games.
- 1996 - After winning the first two games, the Caps lost four in a row to the Penguins in the first round. Game 4 was the fifth longest in NHL history. Petr Nedved ended the Caps’ misery, scoring in the final minute of the fourth overtime. Olaf Kolzig had 62 saves. Jaromir Jagr had 12 shots for Pittsburgh, while Peter Bondra had 11 for the Caps.
- 2003 - Washington won the opening two games of its first-round series against Tampa Bay but lost the next four to the Lightning, including Game 7 in triple overtime at home.
- 2009 - The Caps had the second-best record in the Eastern Conference but lost in the second round to Pittsburgh (who else?), which finished with five fewer wins than Washington. The Caps jumped out to a 2-0 series lead but then lost two of three games in overtime. Then in Game 7, the Caps fell behind 5-0 in the second period on the way to a 6-2 loss. It was the sixth time the Caps had lost in the playoffs to Pittsburgh. Four of those times the Caps had two-game leads in the series.
- 2010 - The Caps won the Presidents' Trophy with 121 points and a record of 54 wins, 15 losses and 13 overtime losses. Top-seeded Washington gave up a three-games-to-one lead in losing in seven games to the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens.
The good news is that it has been three years since the Caps have lost a series after being ahead by two games.
Caps fans, who are among the best in the NHL despite the team’s disappointing playoff history, may provide Washington an edge. In this year’s opening-round series, all six games have been won by the home team.
The game is basically a tossup between two evenly matched teams. But if the Caps add to their legacy of losing after being ahead two games, it may only make it harder for future teams to get the monkeys off their backs.
Article also posted at Examiner.com.