Capitals fans, burned before, have been left scarred

Mike Wise
Columnist April 23, 2012

I work with a rabid Washington Capitals fan named Vic. When the Caps are on television at the radio station, Vic often twitches violently, throws things and swears at Dennis Wideman.

Vic did not envision the Caps making the playoffs a month ago.

Mike Wise is a sports columnist for The Washington Post. View Archive

Vic does not envision the Caps beating the Bruins in Game 7 on Wednesday night in Boston.

Vic was so miserable after Washington lost Game 6 at home in overtime Sunday, in fact, he wishes the end-of-the-world date on the Mayan calendar kicked in last night.

“I give them about a 35 percent chance of actually winning Game 7,” Vic said Monday.

I asked him how one of the most loyal Caps fans I know could be another Schleprock in such a time of exhilaration for his team, how so many red-rocking legions mirror the sky-is-falling mentality of the old, black-cloud “Flintstones” character each time a seminal moment arrives for their hockey team.

“Because of history,” Vic replied. “We never win these games.”

Vic and other psychologically battered Washington sports fans don’t know it, but that kind of negativity actually hurts their team’s chances of upsetting the defending Stanley Cup champions on the Bruins’ home ice.

Honest.

“Oh, definitely,” said Ronald Kamm, the sports psychiatrist and director of Sport Psychiatry Associates in Oakhurst, N.J., and a lifelong fan of Philadelphia teams. “The mind-set of the city is very important to players. They read the press. They hear the media. They know their history. It’s all part of a culture. . . .

“We in Philadelphia know about it well. I was 80 percent convinced the Flyers were done after they lost Game 5 against Pittsburgh. I figured all they have to do is win again in Philly and do their job on their home ice in Game 7 and it’s over. After all, we’ve had one champion in 29 years.”

It’s so easy as a Washington fan to fall into this woe-is-us trap given what’s happened to the Capitals in the playoffs and the Redskins, Wizards and Nationals in the regular season recently. For instance, Boston experienced seven championship parades in the years between 2001 and 2011 involving every big-revenue major pro sports team: Patriots (3), Red Sox (2), Celtics (1) and Bruins (1). The DMV? No floats with pro athletes since the Redskins in 1992. That’s 20 years and counting, people. Not good.

The Caps are just 2-7 in Game 7s in their history and 0-4 in Game 7s when they were up 3-2 in a series. In the Alex Ovechkin era, they are just 1-3 in Game 7s, having beaten only the Rangers in the 2009 first round and losing to three lower-seeded teams on their home ice, which admittedly was depressing to witness.

Vic embraces these stats, makes them part of his identity. This is the problem.

More applicable stats in the NHL’s playoff roulette: No team has won the Stanley Cup on their home ice since 2007. The Red Wings and the Canucks lost Game 7 of the Cup finals at home in two of the past three years.

In a crapshoot year — heck, another Presidents Trophy winner went out the other night in Vancouver and all of the East’s top four seeds could be out by Wednesday — why not Washington? Why not now? This is the message Vic should be preaching to Caps players.

“If Washington goes down one goal early and Tim Thomas is in the other goal, that’s a heckuva hill to overcome psychologically,” Kamm said. “But if I’m talking to the players, I tell them, ‘Look, you have to be careful not to develop a victim mentality. Do not allow yourself or do not allow the media to portray you as a victim.’

“You got to the NHL because you’re a high-achieving, highly gifted, competitive and talented individual who withstood all kinds of challenges to get here. You have to use that part of you and the ‘gamer’ part. You can’t wait for Game 7. Like Josh Beckett or Curt Schilling who live for Game 7, you have to embrace it. That’s the mentality you have to take.”

Remember Herb Brooks’s rousing speech at the end of “Miracle,” what he told his underdog U.S. team?

“Tonight, we stay with ’em, and we shut them down because we can! Tonight, we are the greatest hockey team in the world. You were born to be hockey players, every one of ya. And you were meant to be here tonight.

“This is your time. Their time is done. It’s over.”

Imagine Dale Hunter telling Ovi and the boys, “Uh, this might be our time. Their time — well, it has a 35 percent chance of being over.”

No. That’s Vic’s Game 7 speech to the Caps. And we all know what’s wrong with Vic. We don’t need that around here. Not anymore.

For Mike Wise’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/wise.

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