Washington Capitals press their luck with yet another Game 7
The Washington Capitals have faced the frightening prospect of failure -- and then failed spectacularly-- as often, as infamously, and usually as comically as any pro team in sports in the last 30 years.
But they have never had quite the chance to fail as badly as they do on Wednesday night at Verizon Center. Before you can avoid such a fate in sports, you have to acknowledge it and face it. You can't leave it standing behind you, tapping you on the shoulder.
In the last 25 years, the Capitals have blown a two-game lead in a playoff series six times. All six times, they finished in a total tailspin, losing either their last three or four straight games.
But if the Caps squander a two-game lead for a seventh time, this time against Montreal, they will break new ground. No top-seeded team has ever blown a 3-1 lead to an eighth-seeded team.
Normally, this column stays 100 miles away from pep talks. But, frankly, I'm sick and damn tired of the same Caps choke story. It's beyond old, beyond sad, beyond undeserved. Eventually, no response -- commiseration, castigation or comedy -- applies.
Ignore the Caps' losses in Game 7 at home to end their last two seasons. Painful as they were, and fresh in mind, they barely move the capital punishment meter. Return to '03, '96, '95, '92, '87 and '85 if you want pain. I re-read my columns on all of them. It's incredible: six seasons that ended with a combined 20 straight defeats (with 12 losses at home) after gaining 2-0 or 3-1 leads.
One year ended on a triple-overtime power play after a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty. Another year died after 73 saves in quadruple overtime by Kelly Hrudey. A Caps team with the second-best record in the NHL blew a 3-1 lead over the Pens. In the first period of yet another Game 7, the Caps allowed a 130-foot, unmolested, end-to-end, one-man scoring rush just 97 seconds into play (two Caps defensemen knocked each other down). Then, later in the same period, the Caps shot the puck into their own net.
Repeat as needed: "This is not the same team."
Nevertheless, a loss Wednesday would have seismic implications. When my son was a child, he got mad and said, "I'm going to get the old people out and get some new people in." If the Caps lose this Game 7, that's what owner Ted Leonsis may say about both his beloved Caps and his newly acquired Wizards.
Becoming a championship franchise is a process. And it's seldom a straight line. However, there has to be one constant in an elite organization. Everybody has to love a challenge and rise to it the instant it arrives -- even if it's an unwanted, despised challenge.
Great athletes want tough conditions and harsh tests, even ones that seem unfair or threaten them with embarrassment. No, nobody says, "Let's lose a few games to the Canadiens, push ourselves to the cliff edge, then see if we can make our team tougher by winning a Game 7 that could mortify us all."
But once a Game 7 rushes up in your face, you'd better find a way to welcome it. Or it will eat you, like it has many Caps teams in the past.