It’s Game 2 from MSG. The Washington Capitals conclude the first leg of their seven-game series against the New York Rangers with Monday’s Game 2 in Madison Square Garden. The Caps lost Game 1 to put themselves behind the eight-…
Behind the eight-ball. Even though…
Uh…even though the Caps won the first round series against the Boston Bruins after losing the first…
“Cuz… losing Game 1 to these guys ain’t that big a deal.”
It’s not that big a deal? But now the Caps have to…
“Cousin, take a breath. Cheerless was spending some time in the library back at the cabin, and…”
The “library,” Fearless?
“Well… the bathroom. It’s well-stocked with reading material. Anyway, he was thumbing through the Caps Media Guide, and…”
You guys run out of toilet paper?
“Can we continue?”
“Well, you tell him Cheerless.”
“Well, cuz, the Media Guide ain’t no good as TP…it’s too rough, and the cover pages slip out of your hand and…”
“Tell him what you FOUND, you idiot.”
“Oh, yeah… I was lookin’ at the game-by-game results, and you know we’ve played the Rangers more’n a few times in the playoffs. We even started three series against those guys in New York City, where I gotta tell ya, they really make awful picante sauce. It tastes like watery ketchup and it has this odd smell that…”
“Oh, yeah. Anyway, there was the series back in ’94 when the Caps were up against the Rangers for the second round, and they lost the first game, 6-3. The Caps went on to lose that series, but hey, everyone lost to the Rangers that year. But in 1991 the Caps lost the first game of their first round series against the Rangers up at Madison Square Garden, 2-1 – sound familiar? – but they shut ‘em out in the next one, 3-0. And even though they got basted…”
“Whatever...even though they lost, 6-0, in Game 3 at home, they came back and won the next three games.”
“See, cousin? There are many games yet to be played before we know who will advance to the next round.”
I didn’t mean to suggest things were over after one game. But that was just one series a long time ago.
“Yeah, but then there was the series back in ‘90 when they were up there for two games to start the second round and had their lunch eaten right in front of them in Game 1, probably with that icky sauce on it, the stuff runs down yer fingers and gets all over…”
The game, Cheerless?
“Yeah, well like I was sayin’, the Caps lost that first game up there, 7-3. Mike Liut got lit up more’n me on New Year’s Eve at the still. Bernie Nichols had a hat trick, somebody named John Ogrodnick had a goal – is that a real name, ‘Ogrodnick?’ Or is that a sound you make when you eat too much of that New York picante sauce?”
Enough with the sauce!
“Even Mike Gartner had a goal, stickin’ it to his old teammates. You mighta thought, ‘shoot…we suck.’ But the Caps won Game 2. They got a hat trick of their own. John Druce had it. Sorta like ‘Druce on the loose.’ Hey, I’m pretty good, huh?”
I think it’s been taken, cuz.
“Anyway, Druce had a hat trick, Mike Ridley had a goal; Bob Joyce had one; and even coach Hunter had one. It was smooth sailin’ after that. The Caps came home and beat the Rangers like a red-headed stepchild, 7-1, then won a couple o’ overtime games, the last one on a goal by Druce. Ya know, he had nine goals in that series?”
A series for the ages.
“It makes ya wonder.”
Wonder about what, Cheerless?”
“What sauce was HE eatin’?"
We don’t know what was on John Druce’s menu during that 1990 second round series against the Rangers, but it would be nice if the Caps could find a sample of it before Game 2 on Monday night in New York.
However, there is a certain confidence that the Caps can do well in this series, and that 1990 series is why. History is never repeated, but it can offer hints about what can happen. In this case, let’s take a look at some things Joe Sexton of the New York Times had to say upon the conclusion of the series…
“The not-entirely-unrealistic current of excitement concerned a run by the Rangers at the Stanley Cup, and it both lighted up people's imaginations and crackled inside Madison Square Garden. There was, after all, no prohibitive favorite, no defending champion, no reason the Rangers couldn't dream like the other remaining National Hockey League teams.”
Even though the Rangers led the Eastern Conference in standings points in the 2011-2012 regular season, the Pittsburgh Penguins were the odds-on favorite to win the Stanley Cup. They’re out. The Rangers – and the Caps, for that matter – can dream.
“The Capitals, who demonstrated the gifts of grit and passion throughout the series, accomplished with successive triumphs in overtime what had eluded them for their entire history as an organization and moved out of the Patrick Division.”
Grit? Passion? The Caps certainly had it in the first round this year, and they are traits that their head coach, Dale Hunter, brought to his game as a player back in 1990. The team seems to have adopted that attitude, although it was largely absent in Game 1. As for what eluded them for their entire history, the Caps are playing for a chance to advance to a conference final for only the third time in their history. If not unprecedented, it has been all too rare.
“The Capitals made everything tough for the Rangers in the series. They outhit them in all three zones and in every game. They rocked them in the second and third games of the series, outscoring them by 13-4, knocking them off their feet and off their game plan. And then they devastated them with consecutive triumphs in overtime.
“’I can't say enough about how well so many of them played,' James Patrick said of the Capitals. ‘Are they the better team? Right now, they are. Maybe a month ago they weren't, or a month from now they wouldn't be. But they are now. It was closer than a 4-1 series, but you certainly can't argue with the result.’”
A month ago, not many people would have given the Caps much of a chance to have advanced to the second round. It wasn’t a given that they would even make the playoffs. But they played hard-nosed hockey in the first round against the defending champions, and they are going to have to do it again if they are to get past the 2011-2012 regular season champions in the Eastern Conference.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
New York: Brad Richards
This is why they pay him the big bucks. Brad Richards is 3-3-6 in eight games so far in these playoffs and is 2-3-5 in his last five games, having a hand in half of the Rangers’ ten goals in that span. He has been in the middle of things at the other end, too, having been on the ice for five goals against in eight games, tied for tops among Ranger forwards. His goal against the Caps in Game 1 had the look of a veteran taking advantage of a rookie goalie’s wandering focus, and the Caps had success in keeping the Boston top line in check for most of the Boston series. If the Caps can get Braden Holtby back on track and apply the stifling defense they exhibited against the Bruins in Game 2 against the Rangers, Richards would not seem likely to get a point in consecutive games for the first time since March 30th.
Washington: Marcus Johansson
So, is there a “John Druce” waiting in the wings? Druce was in his second year with the Caps in 1990 and had a somewhat disappointing season in that he made no apparent progress from his first season. He was 8-7-15, plus-7 in 48 games in 1988-1989, his first season with the Caps after being a 40th overall draft pick in 1985. Then, he finished the 1989-1990 regular season 8-3-11, minus-3 in 45 games shuttling between the Caps and the Balitmore Skipjacks of the AHL. So, is there a somewhat underachieving sophomore who was a high draft pick who might provide a spark for the Caps? “Underachieving” is perhaps a harsh term for Marcus Johansson, a youngster who had 46 points in the regular season (tied for third on the team), but in his last 17 games (regular season and playoffs) he is 2-6-8, minus-5. There is a lot of “minus” in there (eight games in 17 on the wrong side of the ledger. Being “Druce-like” isn’t going to mean nine-goals in five games; this is an entirely different NHL. In this instance it means making a difference at both ends on a consistent basis, and Johansson certainly has the skill and the smarts to do just that.
1. Recess is over. OK, the Caps had a tough seven-game series with Boston, and they looked as if they were suffering a hangover from it in Game 1. That has to be the end of it. That means they have to impose their will on the game from the start. The defense that limited the Rangers to 14 shots would be nice to see repeated, but the Caps have to do a much better job of taking the initiative to go to the net to do better than 18 shots on Henrik Lundqvist.
2. Don’t be coy, decoy. In Game 7 of the Boston series, Alex Ovechkin had two shots on goal. In Game 1 of this series he had one shot on goal. He is still the straw that stirs the drink. But right now this drink has no fizz. He needs to be stirring with more energy. He’s not a decoy.
3. Focus. It goes without saying that the Caps need more focus in goal than they got from Braden Holtby in Game 1. That should not be a problem, but the other side of the equation is that the Caps have to remember what worked in front of Holtby in the Boston series – clearing first shots away after Holtby made the save. That requires focus from the defense, too. Don’t forget what got you here.
In the end, according to the Web site whowins.com, NHL teams losing Game 1 of a second round best-of-seven series has won the series 31.4 percent of the time. When losing both Games 1 and 2 of the series that percentage drops to 16.2 percent. Given the way the first round went for home teams (not well – 18-30 in games overall), one is tempted to say, “history?...bah.” But having to win four of five remaining games would still be a daunting task. The Caps have been here before – just a couple of weeks ago, in fact. They can do this.
Capitals 3 – Rangers 2