Friday, April 23, 2010

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

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Game 5

The scariest game of the lot for Caps fans. Outside of a Game 7, the winner of this game is the best predictor of success for the Caps in the playoffs. Eight times they have won a Game 5, and seven times they won the series. Seventeen times they lost a Game 5 (that’s right, 17), and their record in those series is 3-14.

But what scares Caps fans who have been around for a while is precisely the situation in which the Caps find themselves… up three games to one and coming home for Game 5. That has happened five times in Caps history, and the Caps have lost four of those five games.

It happened in 1987 when the Caps took a 3-1 lead into Game 5 against the Islanders. The Caps lost Game 5 at Capital Centre, 4-2. That was followed by a 5-4 loss on Long Island, a game that served as a harbinger of things to come in that the game-winning goal was scored by Pat Lafontaine. The teams returned to Landover for Game 7, and Lafontaine scored the game and series winner in the early hours of Easter Sunday, a 3-2 Islanders win in four overtimes.

It happened in 1992, when the Caps faced the Pittsburgh Penguins for the second time in the playoffs, hoping to avenge a 4-1 series defeat the previous year. The Caps took a 3-1 lead in games by pounding the Penguins 20-11 on the scoreboard over the first four games. The Caps lost Game 5, 5-2, then went quick and quiet in the last two games (by 6-4-and 3-1 scores) to lose a seven-game series to the Penguins.

Where the narrative takes a turn is in the 1998 run to the Stanley Cup finals. That year, the Caps took 3-1 series leads into each of the first three rounds. Against Boston they dropped a 4-0 decision to the Bruins at MCI Center, but went to Boston for Game 6 and took the series in a 3-2 overtime decision. In the next round against Ottawa, the Caps took a 3-1 lead against the Senators and clinched the series with a 3-0 win at home. The Caps made it three in a row in the Eastern Conference finals, taking a 3-1 series lead against the Buffalo Sabres (with Dominik Hasek throwing his blocker at Peter Bondra in Game 2 after the two were tangled in the corner going after the puck). The Caps lost that Game 5 to the Sabres, 2-1, but came back to clinch the Eastern crown on Joe Juneau’s overtime goal in Buffalo in Game 6.

But while the 3-1 lead coming home is something of a distant memory for the Caps in the playoffs, there is still the fact of the overall record and the fact that how the Caps do in this game tracks so closely with their series success overall. The silver lining, one supposes, is that in six playoff series since that 1998 Cup run, the Caps have not enjoyed a 3-1 lead in games in any of them, so there has been no big lead to blow.

So with all that history of Games 5 weighing down on the Caps (or at least their fans), let’s bring in the cousins for their take on this. Cheerless… Fearless… you guys have seen the Caps just as long as I have, so what do you think? Do they close out the Canadiens tonight?

Fearless… The Caps have outscored the Canadiens 17-9 over the last three games, 15-5 over the last eight periods. They chased one goalie and rendered the other a quivering puddle of head cheese in his own crease and on his own bench in Game 4. The only doubt is how soon tonight’s competitive portion of the contest lasts.

Cheerless… In ’87, the Caps held the Islanders to one goal in two games on their own ice to take a 3-1 lead in games, then gave up as many goals in Game 5 as they did in the previous three games combined (four). A couple o’ one-goal games later – one when kids were starting to dig into their Easter baskets – and that was that.

Fearless… The Caps have the widest goal differential (goals scored versus goals against) of any team in the playoffs (1.75).

Cheerless… In ’92 the Caps made the Penguins look like fish heads in the first four games… scored 20 goals in four games to take a 3-1 lead. Then they come home, and Larry Murphy (y’all remember him) scores the game-winning goal in a 5-2 win. Pens make it look easy after that; Lemieux and Jagr took over, and the Caps lost in seven.

Fearless… There are 11 players in the league who are plus-5 or better in the playoffs. The Caps have five of them. No other team has more.

Cheerless… 1995 – Caps go up 3-1 against the Penguins… again. 20 goals in games 1-4… again. Len Hochberg wrote in the Washington Post at the time… “They are playing power hockey in their first-round NHL playoff series; the Pittsburgh Penguins are at a loss to counterattack.” Well, the Pens found a way. They won in overtime in Game 5, 6-5, then pasted the Caps in Game 6, 7-1, and shut them out in Game 7, 3-0.

Fearless… No team has more third period goals scored than the Caps (nine), and they haven’t played a fifth game yet. No team has a bigger third period goal differential, and only Los Angeles has a bigger second period goal differential among teams playing only four games.

Cheerless… 229 times a team was ahead 3-1 in games in a playoff series. 20 times the team leading the series lost. The Caps have done it three times. No team has done it more (four teams have done it twice).

OK, guys, let’s get to the happy ending in all of this. Do the Canadiens have a chance to win Game 5? Is there a Kelly Hrudey moment (1987) for one of the Montreal goaltenders? A Larry Murphy game-winner moment for a Marc-Andre Bergeron (1992)? A Jaromir Jagr shorthanded goal moment to spark a comeback (1995) for someone like Brian Gionta?

Fearless… Not a chance

Cheerless… I gotta better chance of grajiating the fourth grade this year.

Well, there you have it. The cousins and I are in total agreement. It ends here. Just remember…

Caps 5 – Canadiens 1