I feel like the toughest opponent the Caps have faced so far in the playoffs is history. History tells us the Caps aren’t supposed to close out a series like this. History tells us that they haven’t won a series in less than seven games since 1998. History tells us the Caps are extremely prone to blowing 3-1 series leads, and it seems to happen to them almost more than any other team. I can tell you honestly that because of history, I did not really “relax” watching the game Saturday until the Caps had built a solid 3-0 lead.
So how do you go about fighting history? You take the lessons you have learned from previous disappointments, and you apply them to current situations. It’s blocking shots with your face, not falling for Sean Avery’s tricks, and having defensemen jump up smartly in the play. It’s leadership from guys who are sick and tired of being league jokes. More than any other Caps team I can remember, this one is the best suited for winning that battle. They came out and put the Rangers away at the first opportunity, and they never quit, even facing seemingly insurmountable deficits. I think this team finally realizes the price they have to pay in order to win games that matter (Wayne Gretzky referred to this in his autobiography when he talked of seeing how beat up the Islanders were after winning the Stanley Cup over the Oilers). Last year, Alex Ovechkin would have pounded the puck right into someone’s knees. This year, he deftly faked a shot, and passed it over to Mike Green, who scored the all-important first goal of the game. It’s not very pretty to watch, but it wins playoff hockey games.
It’s oh-so-important to realize, however, that this is only the first step. The Caps can’t fall into the trap of thinking they have won something significant when they haven’t, and neither can the fans. There is still a long, long way to go, and the guys who have been there before like Mike Knuble and Jason Arnott, have to lead the way. I’m hoping that every single series left in the first round goes seven games, not only for the entertainment, but because the longer it takes for the second round to start, the healthier and more rested the Caps will get.
History can teach us many things about where we have come from and where we may be headed; however, it can’t measure the heart a team has or the capacity of that team to inspire people and bring husbands and wives and fathers and sons closer together. It can’t put a value on what that team means to so many who are going through such a rough time in this area — the wonderful distraction they bring, even if only for a few hours. I don’t know where the Caps will go from here, but every day they stay alive is another day that is a little brighter and a little more tolerable.