Sunday, April 26, 2015

Washington Capitals -- Game 7: Law of Averages or the Curse of LaFontaine?

Over the first 12 seasons in the history of the Washington Capitals franchise, the Caps had never played in a Game 7 of a seven-game playoff series.  In 1987 that changed.  Washington took a three games to one lead over the New York Islanders in their Patrick Division semifinal series in that post season but could not close out the Islanders in either Game 5 or Game 6.  Game 7 would be the first Game 7 played by the Caps and the first on home ice.

As any Caps fan knows, that Game 7 in 1987 ended in excruciating fashion when Pat Lafontaine scored 8:47 into the fourth overtime to complete the comeback by the Islanders and send the Capitals on a journey of despair that has lasted almost 30 years. 

In all that time since that first disappointment, only the Boston Bruins have played more Games 7 on home ice (13) than have the Capitals (9).  No team having played more than five Games 7 on home ice in that time have a worse record than the Caps’ 2-7 record.  No team has a worse goal differential (minus-13).  No team has allowed more goals against overall (30, tied with Boston).  No team has allowed more power play goals against (7).

If the Caps’ “homes” over the last 28 years of post seasons -- in Landover and Washington -- were subjected to inspection, they would be condemned as uninhabitable.  The “home ice advantage” for which teams work so hard over the course of a season has meant next to nothing, an overtime win over the Philadelphia Flyers in 1988 and a thrilling 2-1 win over the New York Rangers in 2009 being the only interruptions in the unremitting disappointment that has been Game 7 on home ice for the Capitals.

Here is the history in a table:

So, here we are on the eve of the Caps’ tenth post season Game 7 on home ice in club history.   They are where they began this trek, facing the New York Islanders.  Through 28 years, nine playoff series, two cities (Landover and Washington), three captains, and four coaches, the Capitals and their fans have known little joy when the horn sounded or the final goal was scored in a Game 7 on home ice.  A win on Monday night will not sponge away all the disappointment of those seasons past.  But it will make a dent in it -- a big one.  We are left to see if the ghost of Pat Lafontaine still lurks over this franchise, or if the Capitals can start writing a new history at the expense of a team who wrote the first chapter in the one that haunts them still.