To say Caps fans are nervous after going 1-1 with the Toronto Maple Leafs through two games would be an understatement. D.C. is in full panic mode.
Considering Washington’s playoff history, it is understandable. We have all seen this story before in which an incredibly talented team that breezed through the regular season but is ultimately unable to find that extra gear in the postseason. Seven years ago it resulted in one of the biggest upsets in modern NHL history as the Caps fell to the Montreal Canadiens in the first round.
Losing to Toronto in the first round this year would be on that level. Few expected the Maple Leafs to get this far, let alone challenge the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Caps. After losing Game 2 and seeing the Pittsburgh Penguins roll to a 3-0 series lead over the Columbus Blue Jackets, Washington fans are despairing that even if they do somehow avoid the upset, they don’t stand much chance against Pittsburgh in the second round.
Sounds like a good time for the team to hit the road for a few days to avoid the negative rhetoric.
Look, Games 1 and 2 were not good enough. Washington will not make a deep playoff run if they do not play better. To declare the series and the playoffs over, however, is premature.
History is full of examples of teams who struggled early in the playoffs and still found success. In 2014, the Los Angeles Kings fell into a 3-0 series hole to the San Jose Sharks in the very first round. Think a few people were writing them off? Not only did the Kings win four straight to stun the Sharks, they would go on to win the Stanley Cup.
Ok, but the Kings were the underdogs. Real contenders don’t struggle against lower seeds, right? Well, there was that time in 2011 when the 3rd-seeded Boston Bruins lost both Games 1 and 2 at home in the first round to the 6th-seeded Montreal Canadiens, but still won the series and the Cup. Oh, and that time in 2012 when the 7th-seeded Detroit Red Wings took a 3-1 series lead in the second round against the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Chicago Blackhawks. That Chicago team would also go on to win the Cup.
The point is not to say that the Capitals will win the Cup or even beat the Maple Leafs. I am not trying to explain away how Washington played in Games 1 and 2, it wasn’t good enough.
But to say the playoffs are over because the Caps are tied 1-1 in the first round? That’s silly. Washington could win both games in Toronto and suddenly the entire conversation is different. Or they could lose both games and come back home down 3-1…and still go on to win the series and the Cup.
Nothing is over until the clock hits zero on loss No. 4.