Look, I have no idea whether the Caps are well-positioned to rally in this series or not. I mean, probably, all things considered, you’d prefer not to be down 2-0 and going on the road. Maybe it’d also be nice if the power play scored like 12 or 13 percent of the time, and if Nicklas Backstrom figured out a way to drop even a literal biscuit into a literal gaping basket.
But here’s what I do know: only three times in the playoff history of the Washington Capitals has a team won the first two games on the road. And in all three cases, that team has gone on to lose the series. That’s something like a 100 percent success rate, for the mathematically challenged.
Does this sound familiar? It should, because I wrote virtually the same item two years ago, when the Rangers came into Verizon Center and won two straight one-goal games. I recapped the two previous series in which one team took a two-games-to-none lead on the road: in 2003, when the Caps won the first two games in Tampa Bay, and in 1996, when the Caps won the first two games in Pittsburgh. And I dug up fun quotes from the media about how the toast was already burning.
“Based on two games, [a comeback] doesn’t seem likely,” The Post’s Bill Gildea wrote when the Caps were up 2-0 on Tampa Bay in ‘03. “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.”
“Early this week, Washington Capitals coach Jim Schoenfeld said possibly only himself, the rest of the staff and his mongrel collection of players truly believed the club could beat the Pittsburgh Penguins. Well, the list is growing, and right about now it might even include some Penguins,” Dave Fay wrote in the Washington Times in ‘96. “One of the most startling playoff upsets in NHL history might be unfolding in the Eastern Conference after Washington gained a 2-0 lead over the Penguins last night with a 5-3 victory at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena.”
Fairly tame stuff. But by 2009, the D.C. hockey media had graduated to the point of greater anguish. Here’s what they were writing after the Caps dropped two at home to the Rangers.
Tom Boswell: The Capitals now face the two scariest words in hockey. No, not “dental procedure.” The phrase they dread, as they have for 26 years, is “hot goalie.” When the last futile Caps shot had bounced off Henrik Lundqvist in a 1-0 loss to the Rangers yesterday, as Washington fell to a shocking two-game deficit with both losses at home, a burly, frustrated fan in the topmost rows of the Verizon Center interrupted his booing long enough to grab his silver hair in anguish and then slam both hands into the wall behind him.
Tarik El-Bashir: The series shifts to Madison Square Garden, where Alex Ovechkin and his teammates will face long odds. Teams who have found themselves down 2-0 have come back to win a best-of-seven series less than 13 percent of the time and the Capitals have never done it, going 0 for 4 in franchise history.
Ryan O’Halloran: The Caps are playing OK, which hasn’t been good enough and won’t be good enough when their season essentially is on the line in Game 3 on Monday at Madison Square Garden.
Corey Masisak: A team has faced a 2-0 deficit 291 times in NHL playoff history, and 37 have rallied to win the series. The odds for teams that lose the first two on home ice are even longer. Washington’s bid to join that list begins Monday at Madison Square Garden.
Thom Loverro: What now? The Rangers called Boudreau’s bluff and beat his ace in the hole. Maybe Rangers coach John Tortorella is just a better card player.
Mike Wise: All that’s left is two more stunning Ranger victories, Al Michaels making the historic call, Lundqvist searching for his father in the stands and Alex Ovechkin and friends politely shaking hands with their unheralded conquerors. Les miserables on ice.
Larry Brooks: We live in a republic, not a hereditary monarchy. Still, here in our nation’s capital, there he was, standing taller than anyone on the ice. King Henrik.
The participants, though, are never fooled.
“Anything can happen, in the playoffs,’’ Mario Lemieux said, when the Pens trailed the Caps in ‘96.
“Our backs are against the wall,” Tampa Bay captain Dave Andreychuk said in 2003, “but we’ve responded before.”
“I mean, you tell the guys to keep the faith,” Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau said in 2009. “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.”