Friday, April 24, 2009

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, Game 5: Caps vs. Rangers

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

OK, Caps fans, with the boys down three games to one, it’s time to break out all the good luck charms you have lying around or any you find, for that matter. So, if you’re out and about today, enjoying the fine spring weather, look out for…

Acorns. For those of you familiar with Norse folklore, the acorn brings good fortune. A lone acorn is also thought to ward off lightning when placed in a windowsill. OK…save that one for next year when the Caps play Tampa Bay.

Stray Eyelash. As the story goes, if a stray eyelash should fall upon your cheek, place it on your finger and make a wish. Then blow the eyelash away. Your wish will come back to you. No word on if plucking eyelashes works…we might see hundreds of “lashless” Caps fans tonight.

Coins. If you see one lying on the sidewalk, look at it before you pick it up. If it’s “heads” up, pick it up – it’s a sign of good luck to come. If it’s “tails” up, leave it be – that’s a bad luck sign.

Crows. One is bad, two are a sign of luck, three signifies health, four – wealth, five means illness, six is death. No word on seven, maybe a hat trick.

Wood. Know where that whole “knock on wood” thing comes from? Seems there is a long history of believing that spirits live in trees, and knocking on them or touching them would bring good fortune, or (in the case of Celtic tradition) thank spirits for a bit of luck. Go forth and find a tree, Caps fans.

As for the game, we have that 3-1 deficit thing to think about. The last time a team down three games to one came back and won a series was in 2004. Montreal turned the trick against the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. In game five of that series, Montreal was faced, not only with having to crawl out of a deep hole, but they had to do so after an especially bitter game four.

In that game four, Montreal gagged on a 3-1 lead that they took not two minutes into the second period. Mike Knuble scored a goal in the last minute of regulation for the Bruins to send the game into overtime, and the Bruins won in a second overtime when Sheldon Souray and Alex Kovalev collided in the neutral zone, allowing Glen Murray to skate in alone on – gulp! – Jose Theodore for the game winning goal.

Forward to game five. Beaten, beat down, and having to go on the road to Boston, Montreal got a masterful performance from, that’s right – Theodore – in holding off the Bruins while building a 1-0 lead after one period and a 2-0 lead after two. The Bruins cracked, and Montreal poured in three goals in the third on their way to a 5-1 win that featured 43 saves by Theodore.

Montreal won game six at Bell Centre, 5-2, then traveled back to Boston to close out the Bruins in shocking fashion – a 2-0 shutout by Theodore.

The point of all of this is that, as the great Senator John Blutarsky famously put it, “Nothing is over until we decide it is!”

But deciding it’s not over and making it so are two different things. To achieve that, some things are going to have to change. So far, the “young guns” have been good. Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green have a combined four goals and 16 points in four games -- four points a game. But each member of this foursome averaged more than a point a game this year in the regular season. The Alexes have averaged more than a point a game in this series (five points apiece), but all four must be better than good. In game three – a 4-0 win – they combined for eight points. Split the difference – the Caps need six points out of this group.

The Caps have received almost nothing from anyone else in this series. Outside of the “young guns,” no Cap has more than one point. Tomas Fleischmann, Viktor Kozlov, Brooks Laich, Sergei Fedorov…you guys have one point apiece. That simply isn’t going to do.

Mike Green has had a difficult series. He just doesn’t seem himself, frankly. He’s been on the ice for four of the seven goals scored by the Rangers and has only two assists at the offensive end in compiling a team-worst minus-3 rating (tied with Eric Fehr). If Green doesn’t snap out of it, this isn’t likely to end well for the Caps.

If that Montreal-Boston series from 2004 is instructive, the best players need to step up in a big way. Montreal scored 12 goals in the last three games of that series. Richard Zednik had three; Alex Kovalev, Yanic Perrault, and Saku Koivu had two apiece. Koivu led the scoring with seven total points in those games. Zednik had five points. Perreault and Kovalev had four apiece.

But there were also the chip-ins. Darren Langdon and Jan Bulis had goals. Sheldon Souray and Andrei Markov contributed a pair of assists apiece from the blue line. And there was the goaltending.

That series provides an eerie echo to what is going on in the Caps-Rangers series. Montreal could not solve Bruin goalie Andrew Raycroft in the first four games, beating him only seven times in 134 shots (a .948 save percentage for Raycroft). Goaltending (yes, by Theodore) was not the problem, having allowed Boston only 11 goals in those four games, two of which went to overtime – Theodore had a .912 save percentage in those first four games.

But in the last three games, the Habs found their stroke, beating Raycoft on 12 of 79 shots (.848), while Theodore bettered his early series numbers in the last three games (97 saves on 100 shots faced). And here's the was the first time in the storied history of the Montreal Canadiens that they recovered from a 3-1 series deficit.

This isn’t, as they say, “rocket science.” The Caps need to get more out of their best, get something – anything – out of the next wave of players, and keep stuffing the Rangers’ offensive chances. Do that three times, and there is hockey in May in Washington, after all.

229 teams have faced a 3-1 deficit in Stanley Cup playoff series. 20 of them have come back to win those series. If the Caps are to be the 21st, they have to win one before they can win another, and that starts tonight…

Caps 4 – Rangers 1

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