The Capitals won a Stanley Cup despite falling behind at some point in every playoff series last spring and losing Game 1 three separate times. That is not exactly a sound plan.
Washington rallying from 2-0 down against the Columbus Blue Jackets and shaking off Game 1 losses to the Pittsburgh Penguins and Vegas Golden Knights was admirable. It was also dangerous and yet another reason why Thursday’s Game 1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes meant so much. It’s the rare occasion that Washington is not chasing a series from the jump.
"It’s always important to have a good start,” captain Alex Ovechkin said. “But again, series goes for four wins and we got one right now to get this game and move forward."
Ovechkin has reason to be wary given that the Capitals shook off those deficits to Columbus (0-2), Pittsburgh (0-1) and Vegas (0-1) and that even up 2-0 themselves on Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference Final, the Lightning won the next three games to push them to the brink of elimination.
Washington has actually fallen behind at some point in seven of its last eight postseason series dating to 2016. That even includes series where they won Game 1, including Tampa Bay last year (2-3), Toronto in 2017 (1-2) and Pittsburgh in 2016 (1-3). They rallied again to beat the Lightning and Maple Leafs, but lost that year to the Penguins.
This is nothing new. NHL teams face adversity in almost any series. The Capitals remember having a Blue Jackets shot go off the post in overtime of Game 3 that would have left them down 0-3. That would have pretty much spelled the end of what became a championship season. The Hurricanes are taking that same approach after the 4-2 loss in Game 1.
“We came here for a split, so we’re going to have to get that done,” Carolina forward Justin Williams said. “I take the fact that we were resilient, we came back and we had an opportunity to win the game [Thursday], which is the case with every game we’ve played this year, but we haven’t done it against them, yet. So no better time than [Saturday].”
If you only include the first game of a playoff series, the Capitals have lost four of their past five openers, which leaves them quickly scrambling to catch up. Not to mention sitting around for an off day wondering what went wrong and how to fix it.
This season, the coaching staff made some tweaks to the schedule to try to reverse the trend. They tried to hold shorter practices in the four days between the end of the regular season and the start of the Carolina series to keep players fresher. They changed how they watched video. They emphasized how important a good first period in Game 1 would be and ended up scoring three times before intermission. The plan worked. For now.
“But, again, we didn’t play our best,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. “There’s definitely room to grow and the fortunate part is we left with a win. That allows us to build some confidence here initially. Take a good start to the series and build on that starting [Saturday].”
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