This Thing Ain't Over
In which I pretend to be optimistic about the Caps' playoff chances....No, seriously, read on....
"We have two wins and we're playing against a very good hockey club and we cannot, we cannot lose our edge as far as what we have to do, because series can be turned around really quickly," John Tortorella said today.
Sure, he has to say that.
"I mean, you tell the guys to keep the faith," Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "You never quit. You never quit and you never give up, and one game can change the tide. I mean, they won two in our building, you know? So I don't think it's an impossibility to say that we can't win two in theirs."
Sure, that's a triple negative. And sure, he has to say that, too, assuming those negatives work out correctly. But here's the thing: it's sort of actually the truth.
In the playoff history of the Washington Capitals, only twice has a team lost the first two games at home. Both times, that team--down 2-0, going on the road amid talk of catastrophe-- won the series.
(That's something like a 100 percent success rate, for the mathematically challenged.)
The memories, in this case, are severely bad, to the point that even now you might gag a bit at the thought. But the point is, we're not talking about some maniacal dream of flipping tails 17 times in a row, of threading a rink-long shot through two defensemen and a goalie with no time left on the clock. This isn't the NBA, either.
This particular comeback happens. And when it does, the media has already written things off after Game 2. Look, that's what you have to do if you're the media and the higher-seeded team gacked up two fur-balls at home, but certainties can change.
In 2003, the Caps won two games at Tampa Bay, a club coached by none other than John Tortorella. Margin of victory? Try nine-three. One of the games was a shutout, and in the other game the victorious Caps allowed three goals. Olaf Kolzig, up 2-0 with three goals allowed, was being lauded as a shut-down playoff goalie. Does any of this sound familiar?
"Based on two games, it doesn't seem likely," The Post's Bill Gildea wrote then. "In those two games, the Capitals have shown off too many veteran scorers, too much coordinated defense and too good a goaltender to expect a letdown." See, that's what the media will say now. But, just like now, the participants were saying something different.
"Our backs are against the wall," Tampa Bay captain Dave Andreychuk said. "But we've responded before."
"There's no pressure on us," Tortorella said at the time. "We're loose. All the pressure's on them. They're supposed to win the series now....We're going to try and find a way. No guarantees, but we'll be ready to play."
"You can't think that all we have to do is just show up and things are going to go our way," Caps Coach Bruce Cassidy said. "That's not necessarily the case. Everyone recognizes you have to win four....You have to be confident in yourself and your ability to win. To have a bit of swagger was always a good thing, especially in the playoffs. Just don't let that swagger affect your work ethic or your attitude toward your opposition."
You know what happened next. Four straight
one-goal wins for the Lightning, three by one goal, three on Washington's ice, involving a total of four overtimes. The Lightning won the series in 6. That led to an explosion of the entire Caps franchise, three seasons (plus the lockout) without playoff hockey, and untold heartburn for Caps fans and management.
Was that unprecedented? Hardly. The only previous time a road team started a Caps playoff series with two wins was 1996, against the second (ahem)-seeded Penguins. The first two games were both decided by the same margin, and included a starting goalie change for Game 2, with the new guy never having made a playoff start. The higher seeded Penguins had the league's top-scoring offense and best power play. Does any of this sound familiar?
"If we just sit back and bask in our glory," Olie Kolzig said, "they're going to make us pay."
"We're not in an enviable position, but it's not the end of the world either," Pens assistant Bryan Trottier said. "You've got to find a way, no matter what it is. Whatever it seems like doesn't matter. You take nothing for granted. You find something to motivate you, or to better your concentration. You find a way.''
"Anything can happen, in the playoffs,'' Mario Lemieux said.
And yeah, you know what happened next. Four straight wins for the Penguins, three on Washington's ice, involving a total of four overtimes. The Penguins won the series in 6.
But Boudreau wasn't talking about either of those series to his team this afternoon. He was talking, his players said, about the Hurricanes and the Canadiens. If you recall, the second (ahem)-seeded Hurricanes dropped the first two games of that opening-round series, both at home. They were becoming the biggest disappointment of the playoffs. How, people asked, had the Habs pulled this off?
"This series isn't over. It's just two games," Montreal's Mathieu Dandenault said then. "We're happy where we're at, but there's a lot of hockey still to be played....There's a comfort level. We're proud of what we've done and achieved. But this Carolina team won't go away. We've got to win two of the next five."
"The series is far from over; I'll tell you that right now," Carolina forward Kevyn Adams said. "It's a battle. We've got to turn the tide on them....I'm sure they're feeling pretty good about themselves; but we've been good on the road, and we'll have to find a way to get Game 3."
Those were the things they had to say. Reading straight out of the book. Canned tripe, right? And what came next? Four straight Carolina victories, all by one goal, three on the road. The Hurricanes won the series in six. The hot streak continued with three straight wins to start the conference semis, and the Hurricanes went on to win the Stanley Cup.
That's what Bruce Boudreau was talking about to his players today. And that's why Tortorella said this, when asked if the pressure was off his team.
"Oh [bleep] no. No. No no no. I'm not sure what your question is, but we need to be ready to play Game 3. And if you're not ready to play, the teams that are playing in the playoffs are good teams. They wouldn't be there if they weren't. And the explosiveness of that team, and the way that they play, we need to be ready to play Game 3. We do not want any swing in momentum. That's what you try to fight for, is trying to keep momentum. So we're gonna try like hell and see where we go come Game 3."
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