If you want to make enemies inside the Capitals locker room, bring up Jaroslav Halak and the 2010 Montreal Canadiens. Or Derek Stepan and the 2015 New York Rangers.
Both of those Capitals teams squandered 3-1 series leads en route to heart-crushing playoff exits.
Those weren’t the only ones, of course. Since the start of the Alex Ovechkin era the Caps have blown two-game leads in a playoff series four times and since 2013 they are a combined 1-8 in series-clinching scenarios.
Fair or unfair, those thoughts of playoff failures have come rushing back for Caps fans, whose sense of panic is nearly off the charts following Friday night’s 2-0 loss to the Flyers in a game the Capitals outshot Philadelphia 44-11.
“I don’t think this team has any playoff history,” Caps defenseman Karl Alzner said when asked about the inevitable comparisons to other Caps teams that broke their fans’ hearts. “This is our first playoffs together. So, in my opinion, no. Sorry to be cheeky, but that’s the truth, I think.”
When it was mentioned to Braden Holtby that the Flyers believe all of the pressure has been placed squarely on the shoulders of the top-seeded Capitals, the Caps goaltender bristled.
“They’re grabbing at straws with that,” Holtby said. “They’ll find out we’re a confident group, a different group than in the past. We’re focused on playing seven good games if we need it. We believe we can win four of seven every single series and it doesn’t matter how we do it.”
That’s not exactly what Caps fans want to hear. They wanted to see that killer instinct that has been lacking in years’ past. In many ways, they saw that on Friday night. The Capitals did everything within their power to send the Flyers home for a long summer.
But Michal Neuvirth had fans flashing back to visions of Halak stoning the Capitals and leading the eighth-seeded Canadiens to a seven-game upset.
“Everybody talks about the past, the past, the past,” Caps coach Barry Trotz said. “The only pressure we’ll have is on ourselves. We’ll go into Philadelphia and play really well and get a win there. If we don’t accomplish that, we go to Game 7. I thought tonight we played excellent. What are you going to say? You just keep playing that way and it’ll turn.”
In theory, it should. When you get 82 attempts at the net (44 shots, 19 blocked, 19 misses) and hold your opponent to 27 (11 shots, 6 blocked, 10 misses) you should win the hockey game.
But because the Capitals didn’t, their fans are fearing the absolute worst – that they could become just the fifth team in Stanley Cup history to blow a 3-0 series lead by losing four games in a row.
“You can’t be too upset with a good game,” Alzner said. “Just be upset with the result and keep truckin’ along.”
Holtby was singing a similar tune.
“If we play our game it’s going to go our way sooner or later,” he said. “The last two games we haven’t gotten any lucky bounces. We haven’t had luck go our way and if we just keep our composure and keep pushing forward there’s no way we won’t win one of the last two games.”