In recent history the Washington Capitals have struggled to close out opponents in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
All of that came to a head last season when up 3-1 on the Montreal Canadiens, the Caps came home to the Verizon Center only to watch their Stanley Cup dreams burst by dropping three straight (two at home) to the Canadiens.
This year the Caps burst out of the gate grabbing a two-game lead on the New York Rangers before losing in the first game held at Madison Square Garden.
The Rangers won that game on a lucky bounce that pinballed off a couple of Caps before finding its way into the net.
Fast-forward to last Thursday's Game 4 and it was beginning to look like the ghosts of playoffs past were returning.
The Rangers jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead in the second period and I became so disgusted I volunteered to bathe and put my son to bed.
Luckily a friend texted me during the third period and I put the game on while putting my son in his pajamas.
Even though I had panicked, the Caps never did. Much like when they were down in Game 1, they stuck with their game, made a few adjustments and came roaring back.
In the second overtime a miscommunication by the Rangers and a lucky bounce allowed Jason Chimera to send the Caps back to the Phone Booth up 3-1.
As Saturday's game was getting set to begin, I kept thinking that this was a make-it-or-break-it game for this year's playoffs.
Sure, had the Caps lost there would be two more chances to close out the Rangers, but the questions of the Caps' ability to close out series would still be there.
After all, they had all the momentum on their side after coming back from three goals down in the very hostile (thanks Bruce) MSG to win.
Had they dropped Game 5 to the Rangers it would have taken a lot of wind out of their sails and maybe given the Rangers (like the Canadiens before them) the type of boost that they needed.
Even if the Caps had lost on Saturday, but won in Game 6 or 7, there would still be talk about their inability to close teams out.
The players can say all they want about how they don't listen to talk like that, but when it happens enough, it does eventually get to them.
I think had the Caps had lost on Saturday, their chances of winning the Stanley Cup would have dropped drastically, even if they still would have beaten the Rangers.
However, the flip side of that is that the Capitals, for the first time in four playoff series, won in less then seven games and even though they have yet to establish a playoff legacy, that dominating win over the Rangers was the first step in exercising past demons.
If the Caps have a 3-0 or 3-1 lead in their next series there will be less talk of choking and more confidence from the players and fans, the latter meaning a louder and more raucous crowd in D.C.
There is still a long road to the 2011 Stanley Cup, but every journey starts with the first step, and a 4-1 series win over a very physical and tough opponent was one giant step.
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