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Capitals hope to bury disappointing playoff history in Game 7 vs. Penguins

Capitals hope to bury disappointing playoff history in Game 7 vs. Penguins

The Washington Capitals' history of playoff disappointments began even before they ever reached the postseason.

The proof is hanging in the closet in Bruce Peters' home in Waldorf, Maryland, about 30 miles away from where the Presidents' Trophy winners will face the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 on Wednesday night with a spot in the Eastern Conference finals at stake.

The T-shirt, purchased at the long-since demolished Capital Centre, remains in impeccable condition. On it is a cartoon image of an unnamed Washington player with a devil sitting over his shoulder. Across the bottom it reads: "Playoffs 1981 -- Paid Hell To Get Here."

One problem. The Capitals didn't actually make the playoffs that spring, finishing last in the Patrick Division instead.

So much for truth in advertising.

Not that it mattered to Peters. An 8-year-old at the time, he was already hooked on the game and the guys in the red, white and blue sweaters. And he's stayed that way. Through the Easter Epic and the Stanley Caps. Through Yvon Labre and Rod Langway. Peter Bondra and Olaf Kolzig. Jaromir Jagr (whoops) and Alex Ovechkin. Through Esa Tikkanen's botched open net in Game 2 of the 1998 Stanley Cup Final. Through blown 3-1 leads and Game 7s that almost always ended with a handshake line as the other guys moved on. Through 43 years and four wins -- four -- beyond the second round.

So Peters will watch Wednesday night, possibly in person if he can swing it. He will rock the red. And he will believe once more.

"At least the Caps have given you a glimmer of hope, something to root for," he said. "Whether it be the Presidents' Trophy or a Game 7 overtime win or whatever."

He clings to those moments -- Dale Hunter's Game 7 breakaway against Ron Hextall in 1988, or Joel Ward's winner against Boston in 2012. Finding a way to make the conference finals for just the third time ever at the expense of the Stanley Cup champion and longtime nemesis Penguins -- who are 3-0 in winner-take-all games against Washington -- would just be the icing.

"The Penguins always seemed to get the bounce," Peters said.

Wednesday night offers a chance for the bounces to go the other way. If they don't, all those failures -- the ones Peters say "kind of blur together" -- will add another painful chapter.

So let's not miss an opportunity to stick our thumb on the wound just one more time.

The Easter Epic
Technically, Game 7 of the 1987 Patrick Division semifinals began on April 18. It didn't end until around 2 a.m. on April 19, when Pat LaFontaine's turnaround snapshot from the point threaded through a sea of bodies and beat Bob Mason 8:47 into the fourth overtime. In the stands, a 13-year-old Peters sat in stunned (and exhausted) disbelief.

"It wasn't like a hard shot, you would think a routine stop, just trickled and found its way," he said. "You play seven periods of hockey, wear and tear just gets you."

The Nedved Game
While Washington's 1996 first-round series against Pittsburgh lasted just six games, in many ways it's symbolic of the club's inability to close. The Capitals won the first two games at the Igloo and had a chance to take a 3-1 lead in Game 4. The Penguins lost Mario Lemieux early in the game after getting in a fight. Washington's Joe Juneau botched a penalty shot. Pittsburgh's Petr Nedved won with a shot in the fourth overtime that could have been called "Easter Epic 2.0." The win tied the series. Pittsburgh advanced in six games.

"That one's up there," Peters said. "Way up there."

Sid vs. Ovi Part I
The NHL finally got the matchup it was waiting four years for when Ovechkin and Penguins star Sidney Crosby met in the second round of the 2009 playoffs. The two exchanged hat tricks in Game 2 and Washington did something very un-Capital-like by winning an elimination game on the road to force a Game 7. The breakthrough moment never came. Marc-Andre Fleury stoned Ovechkin early, and the Penguins ripped off four goals in the first 23 minutes and never looked back.

"They just kind of fell apart," Peters said.

Jaroslav Who?
The Capitals responded a year after falling to the Penguins by posting the NHL's best record for the first time ever. They had home ice in the playoffs. It lasted all of seven games. Washington went up 3-1, then saw its best season ever come undone at the hand of unheralded Montreal goaltender Jaroslav Halak. The team that scored a season-high 318 goals managed three over the final three games and lost 2-1 in Game 7 at home.

Gone in a New York Minute
Less than two minutes from closing out the New York Rangers in Game 5 in 2015, the Capitals allowed New York's Chris Kreider to tie it late in regulation. The Rangers won quickly in overtime, and Henrik Lundqvist lifted them to two more wins. Another hot goalie. Another abrupt ending.

Through it all, Peters -- so hooked on the game as a kid his parents literally bought enough equipment to outfit all the kids in the neighborhood so he could play -- remained optimistic. He is once again, renewed by Washington's rally in Game 5 and dominant performance in Game 6.

If the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Cavaliers can finally do it, why can't the Caps?

"Does it feel different?" he said. "I don't know. Eventually it's going to turn."

Ed Snider statue a special reminder for Flyers and so many more

Ed Snider statue a special reminder for Flyers and so many more

Boldly, Ed Snider will forever stand stoic and distinguished overlooking the empire he created — an iconic portrayal of a pioneer entrepreneur who exuded authority and resolve.

A statue commemorating the late Flyers founder and Comcast Spectacor chairman was unveiled Thursday, facing the southwest corner of Broad Street between the Wells Fargo Center and the previous location of The Spectrum, his two homes away from home.

“Not just the likeness but the character of Dad is so incredibly real in this sculpture that it’s almost scary,” Snider's oldest daughter Lindy Snider said. “You can see his focused and determined look and that drive in him, and we kids always called it ‘The Eye.’ And believe me, it was very scary.”  

The ceremony was attended by an impressive list of dignitaries, including a long list of "Broad Street Bullies," Hockey Hall of Famers and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

“He was a consummate ball of energy,” Bettman said. “Ironically, his memory will stand here idly for us all to see and to remember because he was a man who was constantly, constantly in motion, and that’s how I will always think of him and remember him.”

Philadelphia will now remember him always in the perfect spot.

“Ed Snider was a visionary,” Flyers president Paul Holmgren said. “What a fitting place for the Mr. Snider statue to be on this piece of property where he can overlook his building here, The Spectrum was behind him, and this area he envisioned — that he built for all of us.” 

For the city of Philadelphia, it has an equivalency to the Blarney Stone. Snider's family requested the inclusion of a Stanley Cup ring on Snider’s finger so fans could pay tribute to the legendary owner by rubbing the ring as a good luck charm.  

Unintentionally, but certainly symbolic, Snider has his back turned to the direction of New York, home to the Rangers team he and so many of the players despised for decades.

“We all hated the Rangers in those days, probably still do,” Bob Clarke said with a laugh. “It’s a beautiful statue. It represents him so well, everything that he stood for and accomplished."

From Clarke to Bernie Parent hoisting the Stanley Cup, to Gary Dornhoefer’s legendary goal in the 1973 Stanley Cup Playoffs to Kate Smith singing “God Bless America,” all of those statues located throughout the sports complex wouldn’t exist today if it wasn’t for Snider’s dogged determination to bring the game of hockey to the Delaware Valley in the 1960s. 

Dillsburg, Pennsylvania’s Chad Fisher commissioned the 1,300-pound bronze statue that stands on a three-foot granite base, and over the last seven weeks it became a labor of love, working endlessly seven days a week, 12 hours a day to ensure the project’s completion.

“You’re closing in and everything needs to be solidified and you've got to look over everything,” Fisher said. “It gets very intense in the end.” 

Three and a half years ago, the 34-year-old Fisher unveiled his meticulous representation of former Flyers head coach Fred “The Fog” Shero located just outside XFINITY Live! right off Ed Snider Way. One man called upon to create a likeness of the two most influential figures in the 51-year history of the Flyers franchise. 

“We had a chance to meet with Mr. Snider during the Fred Shero unveiling, and he was so gracious to my family and I, especially my kids,” Fisher said. “This was more than just a statue. It was really a chance to do this for someone who meant something, not only to this city, but to me and my family. He really gave us our start.”

For then general managers Clarke and Holmgren, who strived to bring “one more cup” to Snider, they know the chairman would be proud of the team current GM Ron Hextall has assembled behind an organizational approach that has been radically amended over the past few years. 

“It’s not only a terrific honor, but it’s fitting and somehow it’s comforting,” Lindy Snider said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s been watching over us all along anyway, and Paul, especially you. He wants a Stanley Cup, and the pressure’s on and you’re not off the hook.”

And now there’s a likeness of Mr. Snider that will forever serve as that constant reminder.

Flyers-Predators observations: Offense finally cools off in shutout

Flyers-Predators observations: Offense finally cools off in shutout

BOX SCORE

Nine days after an electrifying and yet controversial finish at Bridgestone Arena, the Flyers and Predators left all the offensive fireworks back in Nashville.

The Wells Fargo Center crowd Thursday was treated to a ho-hum defensive duel that saw the Predators prevail, 1-0, to sweep the season series.

Third-line center Colton Sissons, who did not play in the first game between these two teams, fired a slap shot that beat Michal Neuvirth far post during the third period.

Pekka Rinne stopped all 28 shots for his second win over the Flyers this season.

• Sissons' goal was the result of a multitude of breakdowns. Defenseman Andrew MacDonald got tied up on the play. Wayne Simmonds, who was playing back, whiffed as he tried to play the puck on Kevin Fiala, and from there the Flyers were in disarray. Valtteri Filppula couldn’t keep up with Sissons, who loaded the shot that beat Neuvirth.

• Neuvirth has one win in his three starts. Then again, victories are hard to come by when the Flyers are shut out in two of those games. The other occasion was was Oct. 5 in Los Angeles, a 2-0 loss to the Kings.

• Dave Hakstol did quite a bit of mixing and matching in the third period. He paired Scott Laughton with Simmonds and Filppula, Simmonds with Travis Konecny and Nolan Patrick, and a Laughton-Konecny-Patrick combo.

• Overall, this was Travis Sanheim’s best effort through four NHL games. While he proved to be turnover-prone at times, he recovered nicely to minimize the damage.

• Simmonds left Tuesday’s game against Florida with a lower-body injury and was uncertain to play prior to the morning skate. “The Wayne Train” hadn’t missed a game since he suffered a leg injury at the end of the 2014-15 season. Whatever the ailment, and it appears to be midsection related, Simmonds clearly wasn’t himself and didn’t quite have the same tenacity he usually brings.

• Simmonds missed a shift early in the second and left the bench, only to return late in the period when he took a 15-second shift and came back off. If Simmonds doesn’t improve by Saturday afternoon’s game against the Oilers, we may see Matt Read for the first time this season.

• Predators defenseman P.K. Subban still receives a smattering of boos from the Wells Fargo Center crowd. With Nashville making just one trip to Philadelphia every season, you have to think the animosity toward Subban is a residual from his days with Montreal when his feistiness would conflict with former Flyer Chris Pronger. 

• He missed the first meeting at Bridgestone Arena nine days ago, but you can see what Roman Josi brings to the Predators’ blue line. Arguably Nashville’s top two-way defenseman (although I really like Mattias Ekholm), Josi led the Preds with four shots on goal after two periods, and has a real knack of finding the open seams in the defense. 

• I completely agreed with Hakstol’s decision to insert Jori Lehtera right into the spot occupied by Jordan Weal (see below). With the offensive balance we’ve seen over the past several games, why disrupt the flow and chemistry of the other three lines to accomomdate one player? 

Weal out, Read recalled
After taking the ice in the morning skate, Weal was not available for the game against the Predators. Weal suffered an upper-body injury and is considered day to day. The Flyers also recalled Read from Lehigh Valley in a move that brought the Flyers’ active roster to 23 players.

Lines, pairings and scratches

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Jori Lehtera-Valtteri Filppula-Wayne Simmonds
Dale Weise-Nolan Patrick-Travis Konecny
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg
Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Michal Neuvirth
Brian Elliott

Scratches: Brandon Manning, Matt Read, Jordan Weal.